By Sean Hartnett
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Eli Manning went into halftime of Sunday’s game trailing 24-13. He was charged with three first half interceptions through a combination of bad decision making, a missed pass interference call by replacement refs and smart reads by opportunistic Tampa Bay defensive backs.
Some fans call him “Easy Eli,” but it was an uphill climb for Manning to pull off another trademark fourth-quarter comeback and secure the Giants’ first win of the 2012 season.
Manning lost one of his best protectors in right tackle David Diehl in the first quarter through an apparent knee injury. Receiver Domenik Hixon was unable to return after sustaining a first quarter concussion after a helmet-to-helmet hit. He was without top running back Ahmad Bradshaw for the entire second half after Bradshaw suffered a neck injury. Rookie running back David Wilson was once again ineffective.
Through three quarters, little was going the Giants’ way. The scoreboard at MetLife Stadium read 27-16 in the Bucs’ favor as the fourth quarter got underway and suddenly — it was “Manning Time.”
Undeterred by his earlier mistakes or the Giants’ situation, Eli brushed himself off and commanded the G-Men to an improbable victory. Manning marched the Giants down field through the air for 243 fourth quarter passing yards.
He hooked-up with Victor Cruz for an 80-yard bomb down the sideline as Cruz broke free, racing past Bucs’ defenders for a touchdown. On his next drive, Manning found Martellus Bennett for a 33-yard completion as the Giants tight end bulled his way into the end zone.
The Giants pulled ahead 34-27, but Josh Freeman and Dallas Clark had their way with New York’s defense. Freeman connected with Clark for three consecutive receptions before airing it out to Mike Williams for a tying touchdown.
The Giants had 1:58 to work with — and we’ve seen Manning do it before. He thrives under pressure and in the no-huddle offense. He worked quickly, finding Ramses Barden and Hakeem Nicks for big plays — which brought the Giants all the way to the Buccaneers’ 2-yard line. Manning handed-off the ball to Andre Brown for a short rushing touchdown to give the Giants a 41-34 advantage.
Freeman and the Bucs had little clock to work with and threw an interception into Michael Boley’s hands. Manning knelled in the victory formation and the Giants’ awe-inspiring comeback was complete.
The Bucs plowed down the Giants’ offensive line and the kneeling Manning, but that wasn’t the main story. This game will be remembered because of Manning’s fourth-quarter magic.
“Eli hung in. He made a couple of bad plays, but he didn’t get discouraged,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said after New York’s 41-34 victory. “We just kept talking about the character of this team and we finally made some plays and came back.”
By the time it was all said and done, Manning had accumulated 510 passing yards. He was just 3 yards shy of Phil Simms’ single-game franchise record of 513 passing yards set against the Cincinnati Bengals in 1985.
All in all, it was another stunning display of Manning’s coolness under pressure — and reason for Giants fans to always believe in late drama when No. 10 has the ball in his hands.
How amazing was Manning’s fourth quarter rally? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.