Giants 24, Broncos 23
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—With less than a full season as a starter under his belt, Eli Manning is already developing a flair for the dramatic finish.
For the second week in a row—and the third time in 13 starts dating to the middle of last season—the second-year quarterback brought the New York Giants back from a fourth-quarter deficit on their final drive.
On Sunday, he threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Amani Toomer with 5 seconds remaining to defeat the Denver Broncos 24-23. The win snapped Denver’s five-game winning streak, the Broncos’ longest since the 2000 season.
A week earlier, Manning threw a touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey with 19 seconds left in regulation against Dallas in a game the Giants lost 16-13 in overtime. In the final game last season, he drove the Giants 66 yards in the final 1:49 to defeat Dallas 28-24.
For Manning, Sunday’s game topped the list.
“A two-minute drive against a good team that’s playing well, and to score a game-winning touchdown—that’s definitely the biggest play of my career,” he said.
The Giants (4-2) trailed 23-10 with 13:18 left in the game after Jason Elam’s third field goal for Denver (5-2). But after Tiki Barber scored on a 4-yard run to cut the lead to 23-17 with 9:07 remaining, Elam missed a 49-yard attempt with 5:18 left that would have pushed the deficit to 9.
Manning was intercepted by Champ Bailey on the next possession, but the Giants held Denver and got the ball back on their own 17 with 3:29 left. On third-and-4 from the 23, Manning rolled right, reversed field and scrambled to his left and found Plaxico Burress for a 6-yard gain and a first down.
Later in the drive, he found Jeremy Shockey for 24 yards on third down to the Denver 8, and on third-and-goal at the 2 found Toomer cutting across the front of the end zone as he backpedaled away from pressure.
“They blitzed from the weak side and Tiki (Barber) did a great job of picking up that block,” Manning said. “Amani tried to find a lane and I tried to buy some time and find someone open. I saw him flashing across the end zone and just tried to throw it where he could get it.”
The Broncos (5-2) had controlled most of the game until the final minutes with a punishing running game that ground out 191 yards and a defense that kept Manning off-balance with a mix of coverages and blitzing. Denver entered the game averaging 153 yards on the ground, the third-best rushing attack in the NFL.
Mike Anderson ran for 120 yards on 24 carries and scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter, and backfield mate Tatum Bell had 60 yards on 8 carries. Quarterback Jake Plummer was 18-for-29 for 194 yards and threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to fullback Kyle Johnson to open the third quarter and give Denver a 20-10 lead.
For all the Broncos’ domination of the line of scrimmage—they outrushed the Giants 191-97—they were unable to gain a first down when they needed it most, after Bailey’s interception gave them the ball on their 42 with 4:46 left in the game. Two runs by Anderson netted 5 yards, and Plummer threw incomplete to Bell on third down.
“We haven’t taken advantage of drives in the third and fourth quarter that could really put games away,” said Plummer. “We’ve got to figure it out because we keep pinning it on our defense in the last minutes. They’ve come through for us a couple of times. To do it again to them was unfair by us offensively.”
Manning finished 23-of-42 for 214 yards and two touchdowns for the Giants, who trailed from midway through the second quarter until the final drive. His other touchdown pass came to Plaxico Burress in the first quarter.
“I wouldn’t say he was confused, but they got pressure in his face,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. “On the last couple of drives we were able to keep that away from him.”
Toomer’s catch capped his best game of the season, with 8 catches for 62 yards. The veteran wide receiver has had a reduced role this season with the emergence of Burress, a free agent acquisition from Pittsburgh. He entered the game with 11 receptions, 19 behind Burress.
“The waiting was hard, but it’s hard to be upset when you’re winning,” Toomer said. “Plax has been having great success and you can’t really be upset about somebody else doing well. You just wait for the flow of the offense to come to you.”
Toomer also caught the winning touchdown pass against the Broncos seven years ago, a 37-yarder from Kent Graham in the final minute that gave New York a 20-16 win and ended Denver’s unbeaten run at 13-0 … Denver RB Ron Dayne, the Giants’ top draft pick in 2000, was inactive … The Giants, who entered the game with 18 forced turnovers in 5 games, got their only turnover on the final play of the game when Denver fumbled on the kickoff … Several of the Giants dedicated the win to 89-year-old team owner Wellington Mara, who is battling cancer.