The Giants tried living on the edge for the third week in a row, but this time they fell into the abyss.
Poised to earn their third fourth-quarter comeback victory in as many weeks, the Giants twice traveled inside the Seattle 15-yard line in the final six minutes, but committed two costly penalties, scored only three points and threw an interception that ricocheted off their receiver's hands and was returned 94 yards for the clinching touchdown. That ended a game in which the Giants had five turnovers, gave up a safety, averaged 2.8 yards a carry, surrendered 424 yards to a team that was ranked 32nd and last in the NFL in total offense, and fell to the Seahawks, 36-25, Sunday in MetLife Stadium.
"We played poorly," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "When you don't deserve to win you don't win. We didn't complement each other at all today. We had done that last week and I felt good about the end of the game – the way all three phases helped out – but this week, the sloppiness of the game, the turnovers. You're not going to win football games when you're handing people the ball."
The loss snapped the Giants' three-game winning streak and left them at 3-2. In their previous two games, they had come from behind in the fourth quarter to win at Philadelphia and Arizona. This time they led twice in the fourth, 22-19 and 25-22. But they committed two fourth-quarter turnovers and left rookie wide receiver Doug Baldwin uncovered on the game-winning 27-yard touchdown pass.
"I fully expected to win," Coughlin said. "Probably the most miserable feeling as we've had around here in a long time. To win three straight and then come into our own place at home and not win, and not to be representative of where we are. We were plus-four (in turnover differential) coming in here."
His players echoed the coach's disappointment.
"It is embarrassing, as a good as we have been playing the last couple weeks, to come out here and lay an egg," defensive lineman Dave Tollefson said. "Embarrassing is the only way I can think of. It is at home and it is a game that we are not going to get back. They are in our conference and we have to play better than that."
"We didn't play well," quarterback Eli Manning said. "That's all it came down to."
Manning did his best to overcome that, throwing for a career-high 420 yards and three touchdowns while completing 24 of 39 passes. But he also threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.
Victor Cruz had career-high totals of eight catches for 161 yards, including a spectacular 68-yard touchdown. But he was also the central figure on two crippling fourth-quarter turnovers.
In addition to Cruz's score, Manning threw touchdown passes of 12 yards to Jake Ballard and 19 yards to Hakeem Nicks, and Lawrence Tynes kicked a 26-yard field goal for the Giants.
Seattle scored on Tarvaris Jackson's 11-yard touchdown pass to Ben Okomanu, Charlie Whitehurst's go-ahead scoring pass to Doug Baldwin, Marshawn Lynch's one-yard run, a safety when Anthony Hargrove tackled D.J. Ware in the end zone, Steven Hauschka field goals of 51 and 43 yards, and Brandon Browner's 94-yard interception return with just 1:08 remaining.
Thirty-one points were scored in the wild fourth quarter. The Giants took a 22-19 lead, and seemed to seize the momentum, when Manning and Cruz hooked up for their long score with 12:37 remaining.
Facing a third-and-13 at his own 32-yard line, Manning threw the ball downfield to Cruz, who was sandwiched at the Seattle 30 by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor. Cruz got his hands on the ball, tipped it in the air and caught it with his right hand as the defensive backs lost sight of it. He then sprinted 25 yards to the end zone as Giants fans began chanting his name. Ahmad Bradshaw scored on a two-point conversion that extended the Giants' lead to three.
The Giants quickly forced Seattle to punt and took possession at their 17-yard line, hoping to burn time off the clock and pad their lead. But on the third play, Manning completed a five-yard pass to Cruz, who was hit by cornerback Walter Thurmond and fumbled. The ball was recovered by Chancellor at the 25. The Seahawks didn't gain a yard on their ensuing possession, but Hauschka kicked a 43-yard field goal to tie the score at 22-22.
Manning's 32-yard pass to Ballard helped give the Giants a first-and-goal at the seven. But Ballard's false start penalty moved them back five yards and they soon stalled at the 12-yard line. Tynes' 26-yard field goal gave them another three-point lead, 25-22.
Seattle moved from its own 20 to the Giants' 27. On second-and-10, Osi Umenyiora jumped offside, and the Giants defenders seemed to stop. But the Seattle offense kept playing and Whitehurst – who replaced the injured Jackson (shoulder) – threw a pass to the end zone for Baldwin, the rookie free agent who caught the ball with no Giant within 10 yards of him.
"I thought we heard a whistle," Umenyiora said. "But regardless, you can't stop playing, no matter what. That's what we've been coached. If somebody jumps offside, we have to keep on playing. Unfortunately, we didn't do that and we gave up a touchdown."
"I don't think there was confusion," Coughlin said. "I think that you've got to keep playing. You're a defensive team, make them come. We had done that earlier in the day and they blew the whistle. This time they didn't blow the whistle. So the play stands."
The Giants responded again, as Manning hooked up with Cruz for back-to-back completions of 41 and 19 yards to give the Giants a first down at the Seattle five with 1:25 left. Will Beatty's false start penalty forced them back to the 10. Manning then threw to the left side for Cruz. The ball tipped off the receiver's hands to Browner, who returned it past the Seattle bench area and all the way to the end zone for the final touchdown.
"I thought I gripped it, but as soon as I went to grip it in I got hit and it got bobbled up in the air and I knew it was all downhill from there because there were two guys (there)," Cruz said. "I knew one of them was going to pick it off.
"That was for the game. … We were driving, we were in there, we potentially could have won the game on that play. It kind of erases (his touchdown). You always want to win the game, but whenever you do something to negate that it always wipes the good and you see the bad."
"Any time a ball gets tipped up in the air it's not a good thing," Coughlin said. "There's too many bodies flying around right there."
The Seahawks had increased their lead to 19-14 on Hauschka's long field goal 32 seconds into the fourth quarter. Before the kick, Seattle drove 33 yards on nine plays following a Giants punt. Lynch gained 18 yards on a run off left tackle and Whitehurst threw two passes to Sidney Rice covering 20 yards.
Seattle took a 16-14 lead with 7:02 remaining in the third quarter when Ware was dropped by Hargrove for two points. The Giants were backed up to their own five-yard line after a punt by Jon Ryan. On first down, Ware took a handoff from Manning and was instantly slammed to the ground by Hargrove for the safety.
"I thought when I looked at it up above that he had gotten the ball out of the end zone," Coughlin said, "but evidently that wasn't the case."
It was the first safety given up by the Giants since Sept. 26, 2010, when Ahmad Bradshaw was penalized for an illegal chop block in the end zone against Tennessee.
Manning's 19-yard touchdown pass to Nicks with only 11 seconds remaining in the second quarter knotted the halftime score at 14-14.
On first down, Nicks lined up on the right side, got a step on cornerback Walter Thurmond – who started in place of the injured Marcus Trufant – and stretched out to catch Manning's pinpoint pass in the end zone.
The Giants took possession at their own 41 after Aaron Ross intercepted Jackson's pass for Obomanu right in front of the Giants' sideline. They needed only four Manning passes to travel the 59 yards to the goal line.
The drive began with a 12-yard pass to Nicks. Manning followed with a 10-yard pass to Mario Manningham. Nicks accounted for the final 37 yards on receptions of 18 yards and the 19-yard touchdown.
The Giants trailed, 14-7, after the first quarter, the first time they allowed 14 points in the first 15 minutes since last Dec. 26 at Green Bay.
Seattle took its second lead on a two-play, 48-yard drive that was all Lynch. On first down, Lynch sprinted down the right sideline before he was pushed out of bounds by Kenny Phillips at the one-yard line. On the next play, Lynch ran off right guard into the end zone for the seven-point advantage.
The Giants scored on their first possession on Manning's 12-yard pass to Ballard. On second-and-seven, the big tight end caught Manning's pass at the three-yard line before forcing his way past linebacker David Hawthorne and safeties Earl Thomas and Chancellor on his way to the end zone.
The score capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive that included a 28-yard throw to Ballard and a 17-yarder to Manningham.
It was the Giants' first opening-possession touchdown since Dec. 5, 2010, when Brandon Jacobs scored on an eight-yard run vs. Washington.
Ballard's touchdown only tied the score, because Seattle had scored on the game's first series on Jackson's 11-yard pass to Ben Obomanu. On second-and-10, Jackson threw a short, quick pass to the left side for Obomanu, who caught the ball and stepped untouched into the end zone.
The Seahawks took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in eight plays using a no-huddle offense. The big plays were Jackson passes of 17 yards to Lynch and 16 yards to Rice. Seattle was aided Phillips' 12-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness, which gave the visitors a first down at the Giants' 11. Obomanu scored two plays later.
This was the first time the Giants allowed an opening-possession touchdown since Nov. 28, 2010, when Jacksonville's Rashad Jennings scored on a five-yard run.
It was the first time both the Giants and their opponents scored touchdowns on their opening drives since Nov. 25, 2007. The opposing quarterback that day was Jackson, then with the Minnesota Vikings. Jackson threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Rice. The Giants soon evened the score on Reuben Droughns' one-yard run.