And some of the greenest players on the roster turned a stalemate into an entertaining exhibition finale as the Giants scored 15 points in the fourth quarter to rally past the Patriots 18-17.
Rookie Da'Rel Scott ran a fake punt 65 yards for a touchdown and Derrick Martin returned a fumble 11 yards for a score in the fourth quarter for the Giants, who had just played the Jets on Monday night.
"I thought these young guys played hard. They did make a lot of errors, particularly in the first half," Coughlin said. "But they kept playing. They played hard."
While happy, Coughlin wasn't getting carried away. This wasn't exactly a rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl.
Just three days after a loss to the Jets, Coughlin wasn't taking chances with quarterback Eli Manning and the rest of his starters. And New England used quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the first team for only the first quarter and one play in the second period.
"We usually play them," Coughlin said. "Our offensive team could have used a good solid quarter."
It was largely a battle of reserves as the Giants rested their starters and New England's first string played just long enough to take a 17-3 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
Brady passed for 116 yards in the first quarter and BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored twice on 1-yard runs for the Patriots (2-2).
David Carr, battling Sage Rosenfels for the backup job behind Manning, completed 13 of 21 passes for 116 yards with an interception. He fumbled at the New England 1-yard line, ending an 83-yard drive, as the Giants (2-2) turned the ball over three times.
He also took plenty of hits as the reserve offensive linemen tried to keep the Patriots' starters from getting to him.
Carr's ribs were wrapped and iced in the locker room where he and the Giants wearily celebrated the end of the preseason.
"I can't remember the last time I played that long," Carr said. "I mean, it's been multiple years. So just to kind of dust some of the rust off, it was good to get out there, get banged around a little bit, get your ribs beat up. It felt like I was a football player a little bit."
Carr was replaced in the fourth quarter by fourth-stringer Ryan Perrilloux, who ended up giving the Giants their first lead on a 2-point conversion pass to Jerrel Jernigan after Martin's touchdown return with 9:40 left. That avoided any threat of overtime and extending the preseason.
"It was a good, competitive game," New England coach Bill Belichick said. "We learned a lot about what we have, but we're looking forward to the start of the season."
The Patriots took advantage of New York blunders early, forcing a turnover on the first play from scrimmage and scored a touchdown on the next and led 10-3 before the quarter was over. New England added a quick touchdown on the first play of the second quarter, and that was it for the starters with New England leading 17-3.
Brady completed 5 of 9 before giving way to backup Brian Hoyer in the second quarter.
It was a stalemate from there until the Giants' reserves outplayed New England's in the fourth quarter.
Scott scored New York's first touchdown when the Giants caught the Patriots completely offguard with a fake punt.
Scott, a running back out of Maryland who had a 97-yard run against the Bears earlier in the preseason, showed his explosive speed again. He took the snap and was around the right side before the Patriots realized what was happening. He made a quick cut across the middle then sprinted for the end zone, getting the Giants within 17-10 with 14:50 left.
"You could tell they had no clue," said Scott, who told Coughlin on the sideline that the fake would work. "Before the ball was snapped I knew it was going to be a big play. I could tell. They were kind of inside anyway and I just knew I was going to make a big play."
Coughlin said he couldn't remember the last time he called for a fake punt, but the Giants had been practicing and thought it would be good to get some video of it in a game situation. He'll like what he sees.
The Giants were going backward from the start, drawing a penalty for an illegal wedge on the opening kickoff that forced them to start the first drive at their own 5-yard line. Carr completed a short pass to Domenik Hixon, who fumbled when he took a hard hit from Rob Ninkovich. Patrick Chung scooped it up and returned it 18 yards to the 1.
The Patriots had to wait a few minutes for a video review, which upheld the fumble call, before Green-Ellis scored just 20 seconds into the game.
"I don't think you can tell what kind of team you have yet," Belichick said. "I think it takes three or four games of the regular season before you can really tell."
Carr's second pass was a floater that was picked off by Devin McCourty, who returned it 18 yards to the 33. That set up Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal with 10:14 still left in the first quarter.
Rhys Lloyd's 48-yard field goal with 2:46 left in the first half got New York within 10-3.
Lloyd missed from 49 yards with 18 seconds left in the half, then was wide left from 48 yards in the third quarter.
- Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth made his Patriots debut, finishing with two solo tackles and assisting on another while playing just the first quarter.
- Chad Ochocinco had one catch for 9 yards for New England.
- The Patriots recognized the 10th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center before the game with military and police units bearing flags on the field. Former Patriots guard Joe Andruzzi, his three firefighter brothers and his father, a former police officer in New York City, served as honorary game captains.