For someone who has practically perfected the fourth-quarter comeback, Eli Manning has what seems like a strange wish.
"It's a fun way to win," Manning said, "but I'd like to have a lead and try to hold onto one for once."
It appears that won't happen. Not this year. Not with these Giants. And with the perpetually calm Manning throwing footballs, they don't seem to need one.
For the sixth time this season – a franchise record – Manning led the Giants to a victory in a game in which they trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter. He orchestrated the latest comeback in Cowboys Stadium, where they Giants are 3-0, after scoring two touchdowns in the final 3:14 to defeat Dallas, 37-34, in a game that featured eight lead changes. Brandon Jacobs scored the game-winner on a one-yard run with 46 seconds left, the second time this season the Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute remaining (they scored the game-winner at New England with 15 seconds left).
The victory was preserved when Jason Pierre-Paul blocked Dan Bailey's 47-yard field goal attempt with one second left.
"I can never remember a season like this, where almost every game is right to the wire," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "I was just happy because we needed to have a locker room celebration. We have been starving for that."
"This is a very, very satisfying win," guard Chris Snee said. "We're going to enjoy this for a day or so. What we overcame against that team speaks the loudest."
The victory ended the Giants' four-game losing streak and left them tied with the Cowboys atop the NFC East with identical 7-6 records. But the Giants now have the tiebreaker advantage and will claim the division title if they win their final three games, all in MetLife Stadium – home contests against the Washington Redskins and Cowboys sandwiched around a game against the Jets in which they will be the visitors.
"It's a big win, no doubt about it," Manning said. "We're excited. It's been a while since we had that winning feeling, so it's good to have that in the locker room. (We have) a lot of excited guys, a lot of smiles."
With good reason. The Giants trailed, 34-22, after a wide-open Dez Bryant caught Tony Romo's fourth touchdown pass with 5:41 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Giants had led, 22-20, when the quarter began.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride found Manning on the sideline and delivered a succinct message.
"Coach Gilbride said, 'We need two scores; go do it,'" Manning said.
So he did just that. Manning led the Giants on an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ballard, which cut the deficit to 34-29. After Dallas went three-and-out – thanks largely to Romo's failure to connect with a wide-open Miles Austin on third down – the Giants took possession at their own 42 with 2:12 remaining.
"Our defense did a heck of a job," Coughlin said. "We got the ball right back and that was the story of the game."
"We've been in that situation before," Manning said. "It's nothing new. I don't like being in those situations. It's becoming a habit – and bad habit. But we're finding ways to overcome it."
The game-winning drive began with a 21-yard pass to Ballard. After the two-minute warning, Manning threw to Victor Cruz for nine yards. The Cowboys were twice penalized five yards, the second a hold on former Giant Frank Walker that gave the Giants a first down at the Dallas 19 with 1:21 left. Another throw to Ballard gained 18 yards. Two players later, Jacobs scored the game-winner, which was also his 56th career rushing touchdown, breaking Tiki Barber's franchise record.
On the last two drives, Manning completed eight of 11 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Last week, the Giants tied Green Bay with 58 seconds remaining, only to see the Packers quickly move the ball and kick the game-winning field goal as time expired. Sunday night, Dallas used three Romo passes to advance to the Giants' 29 with six seconds left. Bailey's first field goal attempt was good – but it didn't count, because Coughlin called for a timeout just before the ball was snapped.
"I was talking to the (official) the whole time, telling him when I was going to go," Coughlin said.
When Bailey tried again, Pierre-Paul got his left hand on the ball and the triumph was secure.
"The first one, the guard blocked me," Pierre-Paul said. "He's a strong cat, you know? He was heavy; I couldn't push him. So the second one, I was like, 'Man I have to push through the center to at least try to get the blocked kick.' I gave great effort and I blocked the kick. I didn't go through the guard. I stepped left and blocked through the center. It felt good. I knew we weren't going into overtime."
It seems strange to cite a defensive player as one of the Giants' heroes after they surrendered 34 points and 444 yards, but Pierre-Paul was magnificent. He had a team-high eight tackles (six solo), two sacks, including one that resulted in a safety, and a forced fumble that was recovered by Deon Grant, leading to a Giants field goal.
"He is something else," Coughlin said of Pierre-Paul. "He has a great motor and he keeps going."
Offensively, Manning completed 27 of 47 passes for an even 400 yards, touchdowns to Ballard and Mario Manningham and an interception. Jacobs, getting extensive work in part because Ahmad Bradshaw sat out the first half for violating a team rule, ran for a season-high 101 yards and two scores. Hakeem Nicks gained 154 yards on seven receptions.
Romo threw touchdown passes to four different players – 12 yards to John Phillips, nine yards to Laurent Robinson, six yards to Austin and the long one to Bryant. Bailey kicked a pair of 49-yard field goals for the Cowboys.
Dallas took a 27-22 lead on Austin's touchdown with 12:43 remaining in the fourth quarter. On first-and-goal, the two-time Pro Bowl receiver ran a quick out, caught Romo's pass at the one and reached the ball across the goal line.
The score was set up on the previous play, when Robinson got behind Prince Amukamara and caught Romo's long throw for a 74-yard gain, the longest pass allowed by the Giants this season. The Cowboys drove 80 yards in just four plays after Devin Thomas crossed the goal line as he tried to down Steve Weatherford's punt. The result was a touchback.
On their ensuing possession, the Giants converted a fourth-and-three and drove the ball to the Dallas 21-yard line, but Manning's pass was tipped by Victor Butler and was intercepted by Sean Lee with 6:35 remaining. Lee returned the ball 30 yards to the Giants' 49.
"When we threw the interception on the screen it didn't look very good," Coughlin said.
Particularly since, after Felix Jones lost a yard, there was a mix-up in the secondary and no one was within 15 yards of Bryant when he caught the touchdown pass that made it 34-22. But instead of folding, the Giants staged another of their classic comebacks.
"We were definitely in a hurry-up offense mentality slash two-minute mentality," Nicks said. "We knew what we were capable of doing. We'd been in that position many times this season. So we want to go down and get the job done and leave time for the defense to stop them."
The Giants took their fourth lead in the game when Manningham scored his fourth touchdown of the season with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter. On third-and-five from the Dallas 47, the Cowboys failed to cover Manningham, who was by himself when he hauled in Manning's high pass at the 23. Manningham ran untouched to the end zone, but Victor Cruz was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for a late block on one of the Cowboys.
Immediately before the touchdown, Hakeem Nicks gained 17 yards on a catch-and-run. The nine-play, 85-yard drive also included Manning passes of 10 yards to Cruz, nine yards to D.J. Ware and eight yards to Nicks.
Dallas increased its lead to 20-15 on Bailey's second field goal with 7:42 remaining in the third quarter. The Cowboys drove 41 yards in 11 plays following a Giants punt on the opening possession of the half.
The longest play on the drive was a 14-yard pass to Robinson, who was later open but unable to reach Romo's third-down pass, forcing Bailey to kicked the field goal.
Bailey's first field goal with 15 seconds remaining in the second quarter gave Dallas a 17-15 lead at the end of a first half in which the teams traded the lead back and forth. The three-pointer was set up by Romo's 40-yard pass to Robinson, who eluded Amukamara on the play.
The Cowboys scored only 48 seconds after Tynes' second field goal gave the Giants their third lead, at 15-14. The Giants took possession at the Dallas 14 after Pierre-Paul forced a Jones fumble that was recovered by Grant, who ran a long way side-to-side but was credited with only a one-yard return.
The Giants couldn't take full advantage of the takeaway. Two Manning incompletions were sandwiched around Jacobs' six-yard run, forcing the Giants to settle for three points.
Romo's nine-yard touchdown pass to Robinson had given the Cowboys a 14-12 lead with 6:26 remaining in the quarter. On first-and-goal, Romo faked a handoff, moved to his right and fired a pass to Robinson, who stood alone in the end zone when he caught the ball.
Dallas drove 80 yards in 11 plays, including a pair of 11-yard runs by Jones and Romo's 10-yard pass to Tony Fiammetta.
Jacobs' one-yard touchdown run up the middle with 12:24 remaining in the second quarter gave the lead back to the Giants at 12-7. It was Jacobs' 55th career rushing touchdown, moving him into a first-place tie with Tiki Barber on the franchise's career list.
Jacobs scored immediately after safety Gerald Sensabaugh was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, giving the Giants a first down at the Dallas one.
The big plays on the drive were Manning passes of 23 and 11 yards to Nicks, an 11-yarder to Travis Beckum and Jacobs' 15-yard run.
Dallas took its first lead at 7-5 on Romo's 12-yard touchdown pass to Phillips with 2:49 remaining in the first quarter. Phillips played more than he normally does because No. 2 tight end Martellus Bennett was inactive for Dallas.
On first down, Romo faked a screen to the right before throwing to left side for Phillips, who caught the ball at the 19, seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. He then ran behind a convoy of Cowboys that included tackle Doug Free, who blocked cornerback Corey Webster into the end zone.
The score capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive. The big play was a 26-yard run up the middle by Jones, who had replaced an injured DeMarco Murray two plays earlier. Dallas got an extra five yards to the 12 when Mathias Kiwanuka was penalized for illegal hands to the face. Phillips scored on the next play.
Tynes' 23-yard field goal gave the Giants a 5-0 lead with 7:07 remaining in the first quarter. Before the kick, the Giants drove 66 yards in six plays, most notable among them a pass down the middle from Manning to Nicks that gained 64 yards. Nicks caught the ball at the Dallas 30-yard line and wasn't stopped until Alan Ball and Sensabaugh tackled him at the four.
But the Giants couldn't get the ball into the end zone. Two Manning fade passes, one to Nicks, the other to Beckum, fell incomplete. On third down, D.J. Ware was stopped for a one-yard loss and Tynes came on to kick the field goal.
The Giants took a 2-0 lead with 9:42 remaining in the first quarter, when Romo's knee hit the ground in the end zone after he was knocked down by Pierre-Paul.
On second-and-nine from the Dallas' nine-yard line, Pierre-Paul hit Romo at the two. The quarterback didn't go down immediately, instead bracing himself with the football. But he couldn't retain his balance and his knee hit the ground in the end zone for a safety.
It was the first Giants' safety since Dec. 14, 2008, when, ironically, Romo was forced out of the end zone by Kiwanuka, also in Dallas (though that was in Texas Stadium).
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