MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – After enduring more than their share of late-game disappointments, the Giants Monday night finally ended a game as they wanted to, with Eli Manning taking a knee in the celebratory victory formation.
That was only fitting, because Manning played one of the finest games of his 12-year career, as he and Odell Beckham Jr. were once again the offensive standouts in the Giants' 31-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Sun Life Stadium.
The Giants broke a three-game losing streak and at 6-7, are tied with Philadelphia and Washington for first place in the NFC East. Oh, and they host 13-0 Carolina on Sunday.
After Miami took a 24-17 lead midway through the third quarter, Manning and Beckham hooked up for the tying and winning touchdowns. The first was a six-yarder that required a replay challenge by Tom Coughlin, and a reversal of an incomplete pass by referee Craig Wrolstad. The second was a spectacular 84-yard bomb with 11:13 remaining that Beckham caught at the Giants' 45-yard line and put an absurd distance between himself and the Dolphins defenders.
The invaluable duo secured the victory immediately after the two-minute warning, when Beckham went low to get his hands under Manning's five-yard pass on third-and-three. That completion was upheld after review, enabling to twice kneel down as the clock ran out.
"It's fun to win," Coughlin said. "It's nice to win, and to be able to finish the game with the ball in our hand. (That) was really fulfilling tonight, because we talked about playing sixty minutes and we haven't been doing that. We hadn't been finishing, that was a major goal and we did that."
Coughlin has mentioned "finish" to his players so often, they probably hear the word in their sleep. But their end-game experiences had given them nothing but nightmares, as they had lost five games in which they owned fourth-quarter leads. But in Miami, they rallied for a victory they absolutely had to have, and for once they were thrilled to see Manning go to the ground.
"Man, that's the best play in football, is victory," said running back Rashad Jennings, who accounted for 81 of the Giants' 92 rushing yards.
"Our whole thing has been to finish the game with the ball in our hand, and we weren't able to do that earlier in the year, and we were able to today," offensive lineman Justin Pugh said. "So there was a lot of hugs, there was a lot of happiness going on in that last huddle, because we came and did what we planned out to do this week, and that was to finish with the ball in our hand."
More specifically, it was in Manning's hands, and that was wholly fitting. He was spectacular, completing 27 of 31 passes for 337 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. He was not sacked. His completion percentage of .871 and passer rating of 151.5 were each career highs for a full game.
"I just felt like guys were getting open quickly," Manning said. "I thought we had a lot of clean looks. I thought we had a good game plan in. And just talked about it all week, just getting the plays, how can we play fast, how can we get the ball snapped, and guys playing fast and knowing exactly where they are going to be, and have great timing, and I thought we did that."
In addition to Beckham's two scores, Manning threw touchdown passes to Rueben Randle (six yards) and Will Tye (the first of his career, a five-yarder) in the second quarter. Josh Brown also kicked a 35-yard field goal for the Giants.
But as is his custom, Beckham made the biggest plays – despite missing the first series of the second half with cramps in each calf. That necessitated a trip to the locker room for intravenous fluids.
"I knew that I wasn't going to be able to make it through the game (without them)," Beckham said.
Fortunately for the Giants, he took care of his needs. With 5:01 remaining in the third quarter, he caught a six-yard pass in the end zone, but the officials ruled he didn't get both feet down inbounds. Beckham thought differently, as did the coaches upstairs, who lobbied Coughlin to challenge. The reversal enabled the Giants to tie the score at 24-24.
"I just knew that it was a touchdown," Beckham said. "I didn't want to let the opportunity pass. We've had trouble in the green zone, and we scored already, so why even try and score again? Let's go ahead and make sure that we can seal this one off, and onto to the next drive."
Early in the fourth quarter, the Giants were pinned on their own four-yard line after a Dolphins punt. Rashad's 12-yard run gave them some breathing room and on the next play, Manning threw deep down the field for his favorite target, who could have skipped to the end zone. The Giants hadn't practiced the play last week; Manning called it based on the coverage.
Giants.com hands outs their game balls after the Giants top the Dolphins
"Just a little double move (by Beckham)," Manning said. "They were playing quarters, and the safety was getting low, and (Beckham) kind of ran a slant and go off him. It's something we haven't practiced in a while. But we talked about it today with the guys - 'It might come up if they want to play some quarters. They hadn't shown a whole lot of that.'
And sure enough, we got it called and talked about getting it on the sideline, had everybody alerted to it, and got the coverage we wanted. I was thinking it would be a big play, or had a chance to, I didn't think it would be that open, but it worked out. I'm not complaining about it."
Beckham certainly wasn't.
"That's something," he said. "We watched a lot of film this week; (it is) really not a play call that we had in practice. It was a phenomenal job by Eli to just check in to it, see the coverage, something we watched on film. We had a couple extra sessions of film to be able to see some things. He brought it up today, and sure enough it was right there. He put us in the right position. He always finds a way to put us in the right position to make plays. He had that one dialed up."
The Dolphins, who fell to 5-8, battled the Giants. Lamar Miller scored touchdowns on runs of 14 and 38 yards, Ryan Tannehill threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills, and rookie Andrew Franks kicked a 36-yard field goal. But the Giants made the simplest and biggest play of all, a center snap and a drop to one knee by Manning.
"It was cool, it was real cool," center Weston Richburg said. "It's the feeling I would like to have again."
So would all of his teammates and coaches.