CINCINNATI (AP)—Those guys from New York sure look a lot like the old Bungles.
With a slump-busting win at their numb fingertips, the Giants allowed a long punt return, an improbable completion and a tipped interception that rallied the Cincinnati Bengals to a 23-22 victory Sunday.
Jon Kitna’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson with 44 seconds left touched off a gleeful celebration on a frosty afternoon. Fans tossed clumps of snow into the air and, a few minutes later, whipped a few snowballs at the downcast Giants (5-10), who have lost eight in a row and have no idea what to do next.
“That is one of the most bizarre games I’ve ever seen in my life,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “I have no explanation for why, play after play after play with opportunities, we can’t make a play.”
The Giants were convinced that their two months of misery were coming to an end when Steve Christie’s fifth field goal put them up 22-17 with 5:15 left, and they got the ball back with a chance to close it out.
The weirdness was just beginning.
“I thought we had it,” said Eli Manning, who was only a couple of first downs away from closing out his first NFL win as a starting quarterback.
They managed only one, forcing a punt that they covered poorly. Keiwan Ratliff ran it back 42 yards to the New York 24. Just like that, Cincinnati (7-9) was back in business.
Kitna misfired on three passes, setting up a 4th-and-10. He couldn’t find anyone open, so he threw a jump-ball to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a 6-foot-1 receiver who stretched above cornerback Frank Walker and safety Brent Alexander and held on as they tried to claw the ball away.
“When it was 4th-and-long, I just knew we were going to make a stop,” Giants cornerback Will Peterson said. “That play symbolized this game. They needed one play, and they got it.”
After Kitna’s second touchdown pass to Johnson put the Bengals ahead, the Giants had one more chance. They got the ball at midfield after the kickoff, and Christie—5-for-5 on a frigid afternoon—was warming up to try for a sixth.
“There’s no way you can blame anyone on that,” Manning said. “It’s just their guy having his hand in the right spot.”
Fans around these parts know the feeling. The Bengals haven’t had a winning season in 14 years, earning their reputation as The Bungles for losing in strange ways at the end. This time, the visitors played the part.
“That’s one area where we’ve grown from last year,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We would have lost this game a year ago. We would have continued to find a way to lose at the end.”
Kitna had another up-and-down day filling in for Carson Palmer, who missed his second game because of a sprained left knee. He threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Johnson in the first quarter, then was only 2-of-6 with two sacks and an interception in the second.
Kitna, the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, pulled it out with a big assist from Houshmandzadeh.
“On four straight plays, they had the perfect coverages called for the plays we ran,” said Kitna, who was 20-of-30 for 186 yards with an interception. “They had the perfect call on the one to T.J., but he just went up and made the play.”
Manning, the No. 1 overall draft pick went 19-of-37 for 201 yards, leading New York to scores on six consecutive possessions.
Tiki Barber ran for 109 yards and a touchdown, and Christie finished off the next five drives with kicks from 42, 31, 36, 44 and 41 yards that tumbled through the cold, thick air.
Manning had his breakout game a week earlier, throwing for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 33-30 loss to Pittsburgh. He was on the verge of another breakthrough Sunday, but came up just short again.
A Southerner who had never played in severe cold, Manning avoided the glaring mistake on a field ringed with piles of crusty snow.
“It was a significant day for him, and I thought was going to be enough for us to win,” Coughlin said.
He should have known better.
Barber set a Giants record with his ninth 100-yard game. He has a career-best 1,423 yards this season. … Christie’s five field goals were one shy of his career high. … The last Giant to kick five in a game was Eric Schubert in 1985. … The Bengals sold out all eight home games for the first time since 1992. Their season attendance of 524,248 is a franchise record.