EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The game belonged to the Giants, but the day was all Eli Manning's.
On perhaps the most emotional day in the 10-year history of MetLife Stadium, Manning, a two-time Super Bowl champion and MVP and franchise icon, received numerous ovations from Giants fans who were well aware they might have been witnessing his final career appearance. Manning threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns and was removed from the Giants' 36-20 victory against the Miami Dolphins by coach Pat Shurmur with 1:50 remaining as the crowd repeatedly chanted "Eli Manning, Eli Manning."
"I don't know what the future is," said the 16-year veteran, who could start one, both or neither of the final two games, depending on Daniel Jones' recovery from a sprained ankle. "I don't know what lies next week, let alone down the road. Obviously, the support and the fans, their ovation, chanting my name from the first snap to the end, I appreciate that. I appreciate them always and all my teammates coming up to me. It's a special day, a special win and one I'll remember."
As will the Giants, who broke their nine-game losing streak and improved to 3-11 with their first victory since beating Washington on Sept. 29.
Manning threw touchdown passes of 51 yards to Golden Tate in the second quarter and five yards to rookie Darius Slayton in the third. He led the Giants to 29 points in the second half, when Saquon Barkley (112 rushing yards) ran for two touchdowns and Buck Allen added one. Manning evened his record as a regular-season starter at 117-117.
It wasn't perfect. Manning also threw three interceptions but was forgiven by the adoring fans - many of them wearing No. 10 Manning jerseys – who were ready to give their hero a proper sendoff. They brought signs: "Thank You Eli," "Eli Forever" and "Eli Made Giants Dreams Come True." When his name was announced prior to the Giants' first series, they stood and cheered. When he left the field with the victory secured, they screamed his name as seemingly everyone in the Giants' bench area – players, coaches and support staff – rushed over to congratulate him.
"Special," Barkley called the curtain call. "I kept saying, 'I'm getting chills over here.' I kept saying I might give him a thug tear. For those who don't know what that means, that means one tear. Even though I've only been playing with him for only two years, that meant a lot to me. I know he means a lot to everyone here in this organization. For him to go out with a standing ovation like that, that is the way to go out - and that is the way he deserves to go out. It says a lot about the type of person he is."
"Saquon and I looked at each other right when we were going out for the first series and we said, 'Let's send him out on the right note, do everything in our power,'" said wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who had game and season-high totals of nine catches for 111 yards. "It was a little shaky in the first half, but we were able to click and get things rolling that second half."
In the celebratory postgame locker room, Shurmur presented Manning with a game ball.
"Guys, I appreciate this," Manning said while standing in the middle of his teammates. "This is a special win. They're all special. Doesn't matter (how) the season's going, there's not a better feeling than a win in the locker room on a Sunday. I appreciate this one. It's special. Let's keep it rolling, alright."
It was actually Manning's second speech of the day, which is two more than he usually delivers. Before the Giants left the locker room to start the game, he gave his teammates a short but fiery – and at times profane – pep talk.
"It got everybody fired up and ready to go out and play," Shepard said. "He's not one for the pre-game speeches but he gave us one today and it got everybody fired up."
Manning downplayed the impact of his motivational ploy.
"I don't think a pregame speech has ever won a football game before," he said. "I still don't think it has. I just said a little something to get them ready. I appreciate the hard work they've been putting in all year. Offense, defense, everybody, they've been competing and they work hard. You see it in practice, and you're just excited to give them this feeling afterwards."
It took a while for the Giants to get going. They trailed early, 7-0, and at halftime, 10-7. But they took the second-half kickoff and drove 70 yards in six plays, including passes of 26 yards to Slayton and 21 yards to Cody Latimer before finding the rookie in the back of the end zone for a five-yard touchdown and a 14-10 lead.
Jason Sanders' 47-yard field goal lifted the Dolphins to within a point at 14-13, but from that point on, the Giants dominated.
First-year cornerback Sam Beal tackled running back Patrick Laird in the end zone for a safety. On the ensuing Giants possession, two Shepard receptions gained 39 yards and set up Barkley's one-yard touchdown run, which made it 23-13 after three.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Barkley raced around left end for a 10-yard touchdown run. When Allen added his first Giants touchdown, a one-yarder with 4:41 remaining, the celebration began.
Rather than show the action on the field, the big screen showed Manning exclusively during the game's final two minutes. He alternated waving and giving the crowd a thumbs up. After exchanging pleasantries with the Dolphins, he retreated to the tunnel, where he was greeted by his wife, Abby, and their four children, including infant son Charlie.
"I think they were a little overwhelmed," said Manning, who also has three young daughters. "A lot of cameras, a lot of people. I wanted to get a little family picture after the game. I got one last year. We have a new addition with the little guy, so I thought we could do it kind of quietly and low key. Obviously, that wasn't quite the case. But it'll still be a good one to have."
Not just for Manning, but for everyone else in the organization who has so much respect and admiration for him, particularly his teammates.
"It was just such a cool moment for me to be a part of," said backup quarterback Alex Tanney, who has spent as much time the last two years with Manning as anyone. "The entire day, the crowd was awesome. To look over, when he was getting a standing ovation, you could tell he got a little choked up. It was just a really cool moment."
"If that is his last game and that's the way we send Eli off, then that's the way we envisioned doing it," Barkley said. "I know I wanted to go out there and play my tail off and I know those guys wanted to do the same too for number 10. He's meant so much to this city and to this franchise for such a long time. He's a special person and a special player. If that is the way he gets sent off, I'm glad we were able to do it in a win and do it in that fashion."
If he never plays another down, Manning will be able to reflect on his final game with pride and joy and a sense of well-earned accomplishment.
"I don't know what's going to happen going forward," he said. "Whether I'm playing next week or not, or in two weeks when we play again at home. I think my focus is just getting this win. That's all I cared about. I was just trying to go out there and play well, get into a rhythm and put the team in a situation to have this feeling. It's still the feeling of winning, in the locker room with your teammates, after a hard-earned game. To get the W is still the best feeling of all."
View the best photos from Giants vs. Dolphins