They made their fans sweat it out, cross their fingers and hold their breath, but the angst and anxiety were worth it when the Giants rallied from deficits of 11 points in the first half and seven points in the fourth quarter to defeat the winless Miami Dolphins Sunday in MetLife Stadium, 20-17.
Victor Cruz scored the game-winning touchdown on a 25-yard pass from Eli Manning with 5:58 remaining. It was the Giants' only lead of the game.
"Every game is a knockdown, drag out in this league," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "That has never changed and I don't think it ever will."
The Giants improved to 5-2 for the seventh time in Coughlin's eight seasons as head coach (they were 6-1 in 2008). Miami fell to 0-7, but it wasn't the Dolphins' record the Giants talked about after the hard-fought game.
"We knew coming into this game that it was going to be a tough battle," quarterback Eli Manning said. "When we prepare I don't look at the opposing team's record. I look at their scheme, I look at what they do, and what other teams have done against them. Miami has played pretty well defensively all year. A lot of games have come to the fourth quarter. Teams have been behind and had to come back and win. They are a talented team; they just haven't quite found ways to win games. We knew it was going to be a tough road. They did a lot of good things defensively, different blitzes that gave us some problems."
Manning was one of the Giants' stars as he completed 31 of 45 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns (including one to Mario Manningham) and no interceptions. The Giants, who did not commit a turnover for the second straight game, had to take to the air for success, because their rushing attack generated only 58 yards.
The defense surrendered big plays and touchdowns on each of Miami's first two possessions – one-yard scoring runs by running back Steve Slaton and quarterback Matt Moore - but only a field goal the rest of the way. The Giants allowed a season-low 246 yards, including 94 in the second half. Miami's last four possessions ended with four punts and an interception.
"Obviously, we would have liked to have that coming out in the beginning of the game," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "It was a good finish but we just have to start faster next time. It was just desire. Everybody wanted to win. We had a feeling this was a game that we could come out here and get a win against Miami but feeling doesn't mean that you are going to do it. If we were going to come out victorious, we had to do it. We had to do it on defense because we had messed it up in the beginning of the game."
After a Miami punt, the Giants began the game-winning drive on their own 47 with 8:28 remaining. Ahmad Bradshaw's 11-yard run and Manning's 17-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks helped move the ball to the Miami 23. But Bradshaw lost two yards and Manning's pass for Manningham fell incomplete, leaving them with a third-and-12 with 6:06 left. Picking up a first down was almost mandatory at that point.
But Manning and Cruz weren't going to settle for that. Crux caught Manning's pass at the five-yard line, slipped out of the grasp of former Giant Will Allen and stepped into the end zone for the game-winning points.
"It was a seam route and they were in Cover 2, so my route is to break it toward the middle," Cruz said. "Eli put it on me and I went up field, was able to make a guy miss. I spun around and was able to get in the end zone."
"He is a big play guy," Coughlin said of Cruz. "He is learning while he plays, but he demonstrated once again the unique ability to get himself open and make a play for our team when we needed one. He did a nice job."
Inspired with the lead, the defense punished the Dolphins. Jason Pierre-Paul sacked Moore before tackling Reggie Bush for a four-yard loss. Justin Tuck and Kiwanuka split a 10-yard sack that forced Miami to punt.
The Giants took possession at their 23-yard line with 4:09 remain, hoping to keep the ball until the clock showed all zeroes. But they lost five yards on an illegal formation penalty and eventually faced a fourth-and-eight from the 25. Davone Bess had returned a punt earlier in the game, but the Dolphins inserted the always-dangerous Reggie Bush into the game to field Steve Weatherford's kick.
"I know how explosive and dangerous Reggie is, because I played with him for three years in New Orleans," Weatherford said. "I knew controlling him would be a big contest for me because he is so electric."
Weatherford blasted a terrific 55-yard punt near the right sideline, where Bush was cornered by Justin Tryon and Jacquian Williams for a return of minus-four yards.
"I can't take any of the credit," Weatherford said. "I punted the ball a long way but those guys did a great job of covering downfield. I just did what they brought me here to do and the guys covered great. If you punt the ball 60 yards and they cover like that at the end of the game, that's incredible. I thought Tryon and the rest of the guys did a great job of getting down there and making a huge play for the team."
The defense did the rest (after Moore fired a 24-yard pass to Bess that had the fans wringing their hands one last time). Osi Umenyiora and Kiwanuka each sacked Moore for consecutive 10-yard losses. Moore completed a seven-yard throw, but on fourth-and-23, his final pass was intercepted by Corey Webster, the game's only takeaway.
"That is what good teams do – when it's time to close out a team you have to close them out," Umenyiora said. "They gave us everything we could handle. They fought like we knew they would but we prevailed at the end. We knew if we got them in a passing situation that they were going to be in trouble. Our offense came through and we got them in that situation.
We just have to keep on fighting. We have all the talent in the world."
Lawrence Tynes' second field goal cut the Giants' deficit to 17-13 with 10:37 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Giants drove 78 yards in 11 plays, including Manning passes of 26 yards to Cruz and 22 yards to Jake Ballard. The latter throw gave the Giants a first down on the Miami 18-yard line. D.J. Ware lost four yards on a run up the middle before short Manning passes to Cruz and Ware left the Giants with a fourth-and-two. Tom Coughlin sent Tynes on to kick the field goal.
Dan Carpenter's 40-yard field goal increased the Dolphins' lead to 17-10 with 12:17 remaining in the third quarter. Miami took the second-half kickoff and moved 58 yards in six plays, including consecutive runs totaling 41 yards by Bush. But Moore's third-down pass for Brandon Marshall fell short, forcing Carpenter to kick the field goal.
The Giants pulled to within 14-10 when Manning lofted a seven-yard touchdown pass to Manningham with only eight seconds remaining in the second quarter. On third-and-one, Manningham got a step on cornerback Jimmy Wilson and caught Manning's perfect pass on the left side of the end zone. The Giants drove 84 yards in 13 plays, including a 15-yard catch-and-run by Bradshaw that advanced the ball to the 16-yard line.
Moore's touchdown run increased Miami's lead to 14-3 with 9:37 remaining in the second quarter. On fourth-and-goal from the one, Moore faked a handoff and bootlegged wide to the right for the score. The Giants had stopped Slaton short of the goal line on the previous two snaps.
"They did a good job and it was a quarterback keep all the way," Coughlin said. "If we had been coming off the corner, we may have been able to stop it but we weren't. It was fourth-and-one and they hurried to the line of scrimmage and even though they hadn't shown it, we were pretty sure that was what they were going to do. Under that circumstance, we just didn't get that communicated."
The Dolphins traveled 90 yards, the longest drive allowed by the Giants since Philadelphia covered the same amount of territory on Nov. 21, 2010. The series began with Moore's 20-yard pass to Marshall. But the biggest play was made by Bush, who took a handoff, burst through the middle and veered to his right for a 35-yard gain to the Giants' seven. Antrel Rolle's personal foul for a horse collar tackle moved the ball to the three. Moore scored four plays later.
The Giants scored their first points on Tynes' 25-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Manning passes of 21 yards to Ballard and 12 to Manningham helped the Giants advance to the Miami 12-yard line. But back-to-back penalties by Bear Pascoe (holding) and Chris Snee (false start) set up a first-and-25 from the 27. Passes to Cruz and Manningham set up a third-and-five at the seven, but Manning threw high to a covered Ballard in the end zone and Tynes came on to kick the field goal.
Miami became the second Giants opponent this season to score a touchdown on its first offensive possession when Slaton ran into the end zone from a yard out with 4:10 remaining in the first quarter. Seattle also scored on its first series on Oct. 9.
Slaton scored up the middle on the Dolphins' second consecutive first-and-goal. He was stopped on the first, but Linval Joseph was penalized for unnecessary roughness, giving Miami another first down. The Dolphins advanced to the one on cornerback Aaron Ross' penalty for interfering with Brian Hartline on third-and-six.
Helped by the penalties, Miami drove 66 yards in 10 plays, including consecutive 16-yard gains on Moore's scramble up the middle and his 16-yard pass Charles Clay.
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