Tom Coughlin stood at a podium late Sunday afternoon and tried to explain all he had seen, from 873 total yards to the exploits of the opponent's sensational rookie quarterback to yet another improbable, thrilling, how'd-they-do-that comeback.
"We found a way to win," Coughlin said. "Thank God for that."
Well, at least thank Eli Manning and Victor Cruz. Manning, a quarterback without peer in the fourth quarter, threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to Cruz with 1:13 remaining in the game – and only 19 seconds after Washington had taken the lead - to defeat the Redskins, 27-23, in MetLife Stadium.
Never in their 88-year history had the Giants taken a lead so late in a game with such a long play. The comeback stretched their winning streak to three games and improved their record to an NFC East-best 5-2.
It was the second time this season and the 21st regular-season game in which Manning has rallied the Giants from a fourth quarter deficit or tie to win.
"Does he ever cease to amaze me? No, I guess," Coughlin said. "The one play right after the turnover we got, that was an interception thrown by us, that one put a lump in my throat. But then he came right back and made the play at the end with Victor. He just keeps hanging in there and banging away, banging away. When his back is up against the wall is when he does his best work."
The last two minutes included one of the wildest late-game sequences in recent Giants history. Washington appeared doomed to defeat when it faced a fourth-and-10 at its own 23 with 2:07 remaining. But rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III evaded the rush for what seemed like 10 minutes before completing a 19-yard pass to tight end Logan Paulsen. Griffin then scrambled for 24 yards. Two plays later, he threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, who got behind rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley, and suddenly, stunningly, the Skins led, 23-20, with only 1:32 remaining.
That, of course, was more than enough time for Manning. David Wilson returned the kickoff to the 23-yard line. After throwing an incompletion to Ahmad Bradshaw, Manning uncorked a bomb to Cruz, who eluded cornerback Josh Wilson, caught the ball at the Washington 43 and outraced Madieu Williams and DeAngelo Hall to the end zone as 81,352 fans thundered their approval. Cruz monitored his progress on the stadium video board and cut to the right when he saw one of the Redskins catching up to him.
"Something we've been really good at over the years is the two-minute drive when the game's on the line and making plays when we need to make plays," Manning said. "A great route by Victor – great decision; I had good protection, I was able to put it up there and he ran under it to go get the touchdown. That was a huge play."
Cruz had options on the winning play. He made his decision after seeing the safeties playing outside the numbers.
"I could have broken it in," Cruz said. "I could have come right back down or I could of kind of made a post move toward the middle. But I saw they were wide and I just took it vertical and Eli saw it the same way.
"I love being in that position. I feel like whenever I get the ball in my hands, I want to do some good things and some great things with it, so anytime we get in that position I want to be the one to make the big catch or to make the winning touchdown."
Suffice to say Wilson had a different opinion of Cruz and the game-winning play.
"He didn't do anything all game," Wilson said. "Guy was not a part of the game until the last play. It was an unfortunate situation."
It looked to be just that for the Giants after Moss' go-ahead touchdown, but Cruz said there was no great concern on the sideline.
"With our offense and with Eli at the helm, we're never really too worried," Cruz said. "We know that no matter what situation we're in, no matter how many points we need or a field goal, we have the confidence that we can do it. We can get ourselves in the right position to kick a field goal. We can get ourselves in the right position for a touchdown. We just have a lot of confidence in each other and in Eli, and I think it shows on the field."
Manning completed 26 of 40 passes for 337 yards. The only blemishes on his ledger were two second half interceptions. Cruz had seven receptions for 131 yards. The Giants rushed for only 64 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown each scored on one-yard runs and Lawrence Tynes kicked field goals of 27 and 39 yards.
Washington (3-4) gained 480 yards, including 248 on the ground. Moss caught touchdown passes of 26 and 30 yards, and Kai Forbath kicked field goals from 20, 43 and 45 yards. Griffin, in his first NFC East game, completed 20 of 28 passes for 258 yards and rushed for 89 yards on just nine carries.
"I'm pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East," said defensive end Justin Tuck, who had one of the three sacks of Griffin. "To face that guy twice a year is going to be a headache. But, you know, the one thing about it is, a quarterback like that, he is different from the Elis and those guys, because it's just hard to game plan that guy. He takes away from your enthusiasm for the game a little bit, when you play a play perfectly and he still has 4.3 speed to run by guys and make plays. A guy like him, I don't think there is anybody in the league just like him. If I was going to run that offense and they asked me to pick between (Michael) Vick, Cam Newton, or RGIII, I'm probably taking that guy."
The Giants will next have to deal with Griffin on Dec. 3 in a Monday night game in Washington.
The fourth quarter was full of action even before the wild last sequence. After a scoreless third quarter, Bradshaw forced the ball over the goal line to give the Giants a 20-13 lead with 12:55 remaining.
On their next possession, the Redskins moved from their own 20 to the Giants' 27 before Jason Pierre-Paul forced a Griffin fumble that was recovered by Linval Joseph. But on the very next play, Manning's throw to the left side was picked off by linebacker Rob Jackson at the Giants' 32.
"That outside linebacker dropped right into the lane and had a little pressure up top so I just didn't see him drop," Manning said. "By the time I threw it he just snuck right into that window and made the play, so just a tough break."
Forbath's field goal cut the Giants' lead to 20-16 with 5:21 remaining.
After a Giants punt, Griffin completed the fourth-down pass to Paulsen and the thrill show was on.
"It was pretty emotional for us on the sideline," Cruz said. "There was definitely some hooting and hollering going on, understanding that we needed this victory, and as an offense, we needed this bad. We went out there and we proved it. We proved us getting the football and driving down the field. It was definitely an emotional game for us, but we came out victorious."
Tynes' 39-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in the second quarter tied the score at halftime, 13-13 – the fifth consecutive possession that ended with a score. It was the first deadlock after two quarters in a Giants game since Nov. 6, 2011 when they were tied at New England, 0-0.
The Giants took possession at their own 20 with 1:49 remaining. Manning completed passes of eight and 12 yards to Martellus Bennett early in the drive and 13 and 14 yards to Cruz just prior to Tynes' field goal.
Forbath's 43-yard field goal gave the Redskins a 13-10 lead. After a Giants score and Tynes' touchback, Washington got the ball at its 20. On the first snap, Griffin ran around right end for a 28-yard gain. Fellow rookie Alfred Morris followed immediately with a 30-yard run after bouncing an inside play to the right side. The two runs gave Washington a first down at the Giants' 22-yard line. But Tuck sacked Griffin for an eight-yard loss on third down and Forbath came on to kick the field goal.
Tynes' 27-yard field goal tied the score at 10-10 with 5:53 left in the quarter. Before the kick, the Giants drove 63 yards in nine plays, including Manning passes of 11 yards to Cruz and Bennett and 21 yards to Hakeem Nicks to start the drive. But his pass to Cruz on third-and-two from the Redskins' nine-yard line fell incomplete and Tynes was called on to kick the field goal.
Washington took a 10-7 lead on Griffin's touchdown pass to Moss with 8:45 left in the second quarter. On third-and-seven from the Giants' 26, Griffin threw a quick pass to the left side for Moss, who caught the ball at the 26, cut toward the center of the field and raced untouched to the end zone.
The Redskins drove 80 yards in eight plays, including Griffin's 23-yard pass to Leonard Hankerson and Morris' 15-yard run.
The Giants took a 7-3 lead on Brown's one-yard touchdown run with 12:41 remaining in the quarter. On second-and-goal, Brown took a handoff, leaped into the left side of the line and forced the ball over the goal line.
The score capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive that picked up steam when Manning threw down the middle to Bennett for a 31-yard gain to the Redskins' 21-yard line. On third-and-10 from the same spot, Bradshaw caught a short Manning pass on the right side, faked his way past London Fletcher and gained exactly 10 yards. Another third-down pass, this one a seven-yarder to Nicks, gave the Giants a first-and-goal at the one. Brown scored two plays later.
The Redskins scored first when Forbath kicked a 20-yard field goal with 2:13 remaining in the first quarter. The score capped a mammoth 17-play, 93-yard drive that took 9:11 to complete – the longest drive against the Giants this season by all three measurements. The Redskins appeared to score a touchdown on a 35-yard pass to Joshua Morgan, but it was nullified by an illegal shift penalty.
Washington converted three third downs in the series, none of them longer than four yards. Griffin threw passes of 19 yards to Paulsen and 13 yards to Fred Davis and the Skins picked up an additional 15 yards when Michael Boley was penalized for unnecessary roughness.