Barber capped a night in which he set single-season and career franchise rushing records by scoring on a 3-yard run with 11 seconds to play Sunday, leading the Giants to a 28-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in a wild finale to the NFL regular season.
“To have everything go the way it did today, is amazing,” said Barber, who also wound up leading the league in all-purpose yards this season. “(Center) Shaun O’Hara came up to me before the game and said: `Are you ready for a storybook ending tonight.’ I looked at him, but it did actually happen.”
Eli Manning, who was 18-of-27 for 144 yards, also threw three touchdown passes as the Giants (6-10) snapped an eight-game losing streak and gave new coach Tom Coughlin something to savor heading into the offseason.
The late heroics providing Manning his first career victory and spoiled a great effort by Cowboys quarterback Vinny Testaverde in what he hopes wasn’t the final game of his 18-year career.
“Obviously things haven’t gone the way we wanted them to,” said Manning, the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. “We went through some rough times. To end the season on a win, especially the way we did it with a 2-minute drive at the end of the game, will hopefully give us some motivation going into the offseason.”
Testaverde threw for a touchdown and engineered a late 80-yard march that set up Julius Jones’ go-ahead 1-yard run with 1:49 to play. But the Cowboys (6-10) couldn’t hold on.
“It’s disappointing to play well for 59 minutes and lose it in the last minute,” said Testaverde, who said he wants to play next season. “After we scored, I felt confident that we could get the win. It was a great effort by some players, like Witten and Jones, but we didn’t get it done.”
The Giants recovered their own fumble on the ensuing kickoff and drove 66 yards in six plays for the winning touchdown, aided by a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on the first play, a 23-yard pass to Barber.
Barber set Giants single-season and career rushing records in the game, surpassing marks held by Rodney Hampton and Joe Morris, respectively.
Testaverde, who threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten in the third quarter, then seemed to give the Cowboys the game by leading an 80-yard march featuring three passes to Witten and a 23-yard run by Jones, who rushed 29 times for 149 yards.
Faced with a fourth-and-goal at the 1, Testaverde handed the ball to Jones and he surge into the end zone for a 22-21 lead. Testaverde, who was 23-of-30 for 231 yards, hit Witten for a 2-point conversion.
On the ensuing kickoff, Marcellus Rivers fumbled, but recovered at the Giants 34.
After the roughing penalty, Barber ran for 10 yards and Manning hit Rivers on a 5-yard pass. Barber carried the ball the next three times on run of 2, 8 and finally the winner with no timeouts left.
The game-winning play was an audible by Manning after he noticed the safeties playing back in coverage.
“It was a little gutsy,” Manning said. “If you don’t get it, you’ve got to get up to the line and spike it real quick. We thought we had enough time to do that but the offensive line did a great job of blocking and Tiki did a great job of getting in.”
Barber finished with 24 carries for 95 yards and three catches for 21 yards. He finished the season with 1,518 yards rushing, beating Morris’s mark in 1986. He has 6,927 career yards, breaking the franchise mark of 6,897 set by Hampton, who played from 1990-97.
“You guys know how far I have come as a player in my career, even from last year,” said Barber, who suffered a horrible bout with fumbles last season. “It’s fulfilling and justifies everything I have done in the offseason and meticulous attention to detail I have done to correct my problems and faults.”
Giants DT Damane Duckett made his NFL debut and got a sack on his first series. … Curry Burns got his first NFL interception picking off pass by flanker Patrick Crayton on a flanker option. … Cowboys linebacker Dat Nguyen had six tackles, five assists and an interception. … Barber and Jones had all but one of the carries for their teams. Eddie George and Ron Dayne had the other carries. … Witten led all receivers with eight catches for 77 yards.