The Giants kept pace in the NFC East title chase with their victory in Miami last night, and it's no surprise Eli Manning was the catalyst to their success.
From a pregame exhortation to his teammates, to suggesting the game-winning 84-yard touchdown pass despite not having practiced it, to his team-record completion percentage, Manning had one of the most memorable nights of his illustrious career. And the Giants needed every bit of it as they squeezed past the Dolphins, 31-24, to remain tied with Philadelphia and Washington atop the division. The teams enter the season's final three weeks with matching 6-7 records.
"The ability to win the game on the road against a very talented team, and to be able to finish it or close it out, under festive surroundings in Miami, was a very good thing," coach Tom Coughlin said today.
They wouldn't have done it without another virtuoso performance by Manning. Starting his 180th consecutive regular-season game, Manning completed 27 of 31 passes, an 87.1 completion percentage that set a franchise record for a single game (minimum 20 attempts). The former mark of 84.6 percent (22 of 26) was set by Kerry Collins at St. Louis on Sept. 15, 2002. Manning threw for 337 yards and four touchdowns, including two to Odell Beckham Jr., without an interception, and he was not sacked.
The 300-yard game was Manning's fifth of the season and the 38th of his career. For the 28th time in the regular-season, he led the Giants to a victory from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie. It would seem to be the classic case of a veteran star rising to the occasion and playing his best when his team needs him most at the end of the season. But of all people, his coach dissed that hypothesis today on a conference call.
"I think he's at his best most of the time, to be honest with you," Coughlin said. "These circumstances are very obvious and if you're going
to play well, you better play well now. And I think he's well aware of that, and well aware of his role in leading us to compete and have a chance to win. I think that's where it comes from."
Prior to last night, the Giants had difficulty closing out games. They have lost five times after holding a fourth-quarter lead. Manning had told his teammates they would be in more contests that would be decided late, and they had to find a way to win them. Last night, he showed them how by throwing the game-winning 84-yard touchdown pass to Beckham. About four hours before kickoff, he had suggested to the star receiver that the play might work against a specific Miami coverage. When he spotted that alignment, he called the play and unleashed the throw to a wide-open Beckham.
Coughlin said Manning's motivational push started well before Monday.
"I think he was in that mindset most of the week," Coughlin said. "I think he, perhaps, put it into words at the end of the week. But he had studied hard, studied long, was not pleased with the outcome of the previous game, and he had made up his mind to really get to know this Miami team, as all of our players resolved to do. I think that's where it all came from."
Manning always deflects credit after a successful game or brilliant performance, and he stayed in character in the postgame interview room,
where he credited Coughlin and his teammates for the critical victory. Coughlin had said last week that players needed to step up and make plays, and Manning sensed that's exactly what would happen. In discussing that, he paraphrased the message his teammates said he had delivered to them.
"Coach spoke about it and we can't shy away from what is happening these past few weeks, and hope we don't get into a close game," Manning said. "The fact is we might get into another close game, we had a fourth quarter and it's going to be a tight game. This is the way the NFL is, it's going to be tight in the fourth quarter. You have to make plays, and we have to be excited to make those opportunities. We have a lead and we have to extend it. If we are down, we have to go make plays to win it. I think guys knew we were going to get in those situations and we have to attack it and not shy away from it, and we made those plays tonight."
"The whole theme all week was to play 60 minutes and to finish a game, finish the game, be able to make the kinds of plays necessary when the game is on the line," Coughlin said. "And to not be discouraged by circumstances within the game, but rather to let that unite you, make you stronger, and do everything in your power to overcome it. That's basically the way we went into the game."
Fortunately for them, it's also the way they emerged from it. They still face a daunting challenge. This week, they host the 13-0 Carolina Panthers. The Giants then travel to Minnesota for a prime time game against the 8-5 Vikings, who are also fighting for a division championship. They will host the Eagles in what could be a title-deciding regular-season finale.
"This is the situation we have to win, and we have to win all the games," Manning said. "We have to stay on track, we have three games left and we have to win all three. It's going to be tough. This is a short week; we have Carolina coming in and we have to have a great week of preparation and see if we can play well and finish another game."
Giants.com hands outs their game balls after the Giants top the Dolphins