Tom Coughlin said he didn't have time for a flashback, but to everyone else who watched the Giants' scintillating 24-20 victory Sunday over the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium, it was eerily similar to Super Bowl XLII.
Same teams. Same Uniforms. New England takes a late lead on a Tom Brady pass (in the Super Bowl it was with 2:42 remaining, on Sunday 1:36 was left). Eli Manning and the Giants respond with a long drive for the ages (83 yards in the Super Bowl, 80 yards in Gillette) that includes a memorable catch in the center of the field by a receiver wearing No. 85 (then David Tyree, now Jake Ballard) and a late, game-winning touchdown pass that is caught on the left side of the end zone (in the Super Bowl 35 seconds remained, on Sunday, just 15).
The teams traded the lead three times in the fourth quarter, just as they did 46 months ago in the Super Bowl. Last time, the Giants' ruined New England's perfect season. On Sunday, they ended the Patriots' 20-game regular season home winning streak.
Manning's one-yard touchdown pass to Ballard – whose 38-yard catch on third-and-10 kept the drive alive – gave the Giants their third consecutive victory and improved their record to 6-2 at midseason. It wasn't the Super Bowl, but you wouldn't know it by the delirium that broke out in the Giants' locker room. Players and coaches hugged and back-slapped each other and everyone was laughing and yelling. The players gathered around Coughlin and running back Brandon Jacobs lifted the coach up over his shoulders.
"I was thinking they were going to drop me on my head," Coughlin said.
"I think we got carried away," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "It was a big win. We made some plays and got a win. It brings back memories. We were happy about that."
Manning threw two touchdown passes in the final 3:03. He completed 20 of 39 passes for 250 yards – 179 in the decisive second half. He has led the Giants to three victories in a row – and five this season – after facing a fourth-quarter deficit or tie.
"I knew we would win," Jacobs said. "It definitely took me back to the Super Bowl.
"When you've got Eli as the quarterback in a two-minute situation, I am confident all the way in and out. Eli has been a beast all season long, ever since I've been in the league, on two-minute drives. He has been great."
While Coughlin insisted he never thought about the Super Bowl, Manning couldn't help but notice the similarities.
"(I was just thinking about) the fact that the last time we played when we had a two-minute drive to win the game," Manning said. "It was just the same situation here. It was a little bit of a role reversal of when we scored to go up by four and gave the Patriots enough time where they had to score a touchdown. Fortunately enough, they scored real quick and it took them a minute and half and left us with enough time to get a good drive, thinking we only needed a field goal. We had plenty of time to go down there and get that, and you always want to get the touchdown. You never want to take it into overtime.
"When we needed touchdowns, when we had to step up, guys continued to make plays at the right time. It's a great quality. When we need it, guys are making big plays."
The Giants won despite playing without leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), top receiver Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) and center David Baas (knee)
"Half our offense wasn't here and we still came out and beat a great football team," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said.
Neither team scored a point in the first half and the third quarter ended with the Giants holding a 10-3 lead. The Patriots took their first lead at 13-10 with 7:08 remaining.
That's when the real fun commenced.
Manning led the Giants on an eight-play, 85-yard drive that was aided by a 35-yard pass interference penalty on Kyle Arrington. It ended when Manning floated a perfect 10-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham on third-and-five for a 17-13 lead.
Manningham was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play, forcing Lawrence Tynes to kick off from the 20. The Patriots took possession at their 36. Tom Brady, who has led the Patriots to 32 victories after facing a fourth-quarter deficit, seemed to add to his legacy when he hit tight end Ron Gronkowski with a 14-yard touchdown pass with only 1:36 left – on fourth-and-nine, no less.
After a touchback, the Giants took over at their 20. In Manning's mind, they had the Patriots right where they wanted them.
"I'd rather be down by three with a minute-thirty (left) than up by four with a minute-thirty with Tom Brady, with their offense on the field," Manning said. "You like those situations where you have an opportunity to go win the game."
That's exactly what Manning and the Giants did. The drive started with a 19-yard pass to Victor Cruz. Two incompletions left them with a third-and-10. Manning, who was not sacked in the game, threw down the center of the field for Ballard, who turned his head and caught the ball almost simultaneously. It wasn't as spectacular as Tyree's helmet catch in the Super Bowl, but it did give the Giants a first down on the Patriots' 33 with 45 seconds left.
"They were playing man underneath, with two safeties high, and we really hadn't thrown anything to him down the middle," Manning said. "He got even with the guy and he's just a big target. You try to put it in a spot where he can make the catch, put it up high and get it into his hands. Sometimes they get their hands up after the ball hits them, or the safety can come and hit it out, but Ballard is a big sucker and made a big catch."
"Right after Jake caught that ball over the middle, it kind of inspired us," Cruz said. "We knew we weren't coming out of there with a tie. We came this far and we were driving the ball. We weren't taking 'no' for an answer. Once he made that catch it inspired all of us."
After Manning scrambled for 12 yards, Sergio Brown was penalized for interfering with Cruz in the end zone, putting the ball at the one.
Thirty seconds remained. A pass to Ballard fell short. Brandon Jacobs was stopped for no gain. The Giants used their last timeout with 19 seconds left. When play resumed, Manning faked a handoff before firing to Ballard, who caught the game-winner near the back-left portion of the end zone.
"The defensive line pinched and I ended up getting off quick and breaking it out because I knew I had to get separation from the linebacker," Ballard said. "As soon as I turned around Eli threw it and it was there. I was just concentrating really hard to make sure I caught the ball."
On the Giants' two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, Manning completed seven of 11 passes for 85 yards.
"He stood in there and there was pressure," Coughlin said. "He got blitzed and hung in there and directed traffic and threw the ball where it should have been thrown. Kept great poise and was resilient as heck."
Aside from Manning's touchdown passes, the Giants scored on Jacobs' 10-yard run and Lawrence Tynes' 22-yard field goal.
Brady threw touchdown passes to Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowksi and Steve Gostkowski kicked two field goals for the Patriots, who fell to 5-3.
Gostkowski's second field goal gave the Patriots a 13-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The possession began at the Patriots' 21-yard line. Brady threw a 27-yard pass over the middle to Gronkowski, who reached down to make a nice grab, and a nine-yarder to Wes Welker on third-and-nine. New England got as far as the Giants' 26-yard line, but Brady misfired twice and Gostkowski came on to kick the field goal.
Gostkowski's first three-pointer with 5:29 remaining in the third quarter cut the Giants' lead to 10-3. The Patriots retained possession when Aaron Ross muffed Zoltan Mesko's punt and the ball was recovered by Rob Ninkovitch at the Giants' 33-yard line. The ball hit Ross' left shoulder pad.
New England got as far as the Giants' 14-yard line, but Brady's third-down pass for Chad Ochocinco was short and Gostkowski came on to kick the field goal.
The Giants squandered an opportunity to pad their lead after two rookies teamed up for the Giants' fourth takeaway. Tyler Sash forced a fumble by punt returner Julian Edelman that was recovered by Spencer Paysinger at the Patriots' 40-yard line.
Manning passes of 23 yards to Victor Cruz and 15 yards to Ramses Barden – his first catch of the season – gave the Giants a first-and-goal at the two. What followed was Giants' frustration.
Michael Clayton caught Manning's first-down pass for an apparent touchdown, but was ruled out of bounds in the back of the end zone. A delay of game penalty moved the ball back to the seven.
D.J. Ware gained two yards to set up a third-and-goal from the five. The series ended in disappointment when Manning's pass into the end zone was intercepted by Kyle Arrington.
"He bounced back after the interception that we were thinking three (points), maybe seven," Coughlin said. "We didn't get it, but we came right back and did some good things on defense and battled away and found a way to win."
But first, the Patriots took advantage of the turnover by driving 80 yards in seven plays and 2:41. The touchdown was a five-yard pass from Brady to Hernandez, who caught the ball at the five, eluded attempted tackles by Corey Webster and Kenny Phillips and tied the score at 10-10 just 32 seconds into the fourth quarter.
On the drive, Brady completed passes to Welker for 27 and then 28 yards and an 11-yarder to Hernandez just prior to the touchdown.
After a scoreless first half, the Giants took advantage of two takeaways to score 10 points in 59 seconds to take a 10-0 lead early in the third quarter.
On the third play of second half, Brady's pass to Gronkowski was intercepted by Deon Grant on the Giants' 39-yard line.
After a short Jacobs run, Manning threw back-to-back passes of 18 yards to Cruz and 30 yards to Ballard to give the Giants a first down at the Patriots' 11-yard line.
Jacobs' four-yard run and a three-yarder by Ware left the Giants with a third-and-three at the four. Manning's pass to Cruz was incomplete and Tynes came on to score the game's first points with 10:09 remaining in the third quarter.
The Giants again took away the ball on the Patriots' second play from scrimmage, when Michael Boley sacked Brady and forced a fumble. The ball was recovered by rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams, who made a nifty one-handed grab at the New England 10-yard.
On the next play, Jacobs took a handoff and scored easily for his third rushing touchdown of the season and a 10-0 advantage with 9:10 left in the quarter.
The first half was a defensive duel that ended in a 0-0 tie. It was the first scoreless tie at halftime in a Giants game since Oct. 3, 2004 at Green Bay. The Giants were shutout in the opening two quarters for the first time since Sept. 19, 2010 at Indianapolis. It was the first time the Giants did not allow a point in the first half since Dec. 5, 2010 vs. Washington. The Patriots had not been shutout in the first half since Dec. 10, 2006 at Miami.
The best scoring chance of the half belonged to the Patriots with only three seconds remaining. They drove from their own nine-yard to the Giants' eight, but Gostkowski's 27-yard field goal attempt flew just outside the left upright and was no good. It was the shortest missed field goal against the Giants since Sept. 5, 2002, when San Francisco's Jose Cortez had a 25-yard attempt blocked by Mike Rosenthal.
The Giants punted on each of their six possessions in the first half. They finished the half with 117 yards and six first downs.
They finished the second half euphoric.
"It was a heck of a game," Coughlin said.
Just like the last one against the Patriots.
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