Manning rallies Giants to wild win over Bucs
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 17 September 2012

The New York Giants are the type of team that makes rival coaches lose sleep. Greg Schiano is bleary-eyed proof. He slept only about 13 hours last week while prepping for the Giants. After what happened at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, it's hard to imagine Schiano will sleep any better this week.

The Bucs had the Super Bowl champions on the mat, down by two touchdowns in the second half, but quarterback Eli Manning took advantage of two critical blitzes to rally the Giants for a 41-34 victory that ended in controversy.

Taking a page from his old Rutgers playbook, Schiano ordered his defense to try to knock the ball loose from Manning during the final kneel-down play, sparking a terse postgame exchange between Schiano and Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

As he approached him for their traditional postgame handshake at midfield, Coughlin screamed several expletives at Schiano and accused him of trying to "hurt'' his quarterback.

The irony, of course, is that the hit marked one of the few times the Bucs actually got to Manning, who picked apart Tampa Bay's defense, completing 31 of 51 passes for 510 yards and three touchdowns. Manning's passing yardage was the most by an opposing quarterback in Tampa Bay history and three shy of Phil Simms' record for the Giants.

The performance helped New York establish a record for total yardage allowed by the Bucs: 604. The teams combined for 911 yards, 738 passing. The teams scored four touchdowns in the final 6:48, three by the Giants.

"I can't imagine a game like that, but that's how this league (is), things happen,'' Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett said. "We just have to keep believing we're going to be good at the end of the season.''

The Bucs were actually looking pretty good on Sunday. They intercepted Manning three times in the first half and, after posting an early field goal at the start of the third quarter, led 27-13.

That's when Manning went to work. He helped the Giants cull a couple of field goals on two of their next three drives to tighten the score, then took advantage of one of Schiano's blitz calls to spark the game-winning rally.

With the Bucs blitzing and leaving safety Ronde Barber to defend Victor Cruz's go route down the right sideline, Manning threw a perfect strike that Cruz hauled in for an 80-yard game tying touchdown with 6:48 left to play.

Manning continued to toy with the Bucs secondary a series later, hitting passes of 14 yards and 20 yards before throwing a 33-yard touchdown strike to tight end Martellus Bennett to give the Giants a 34-27 lead with 3:59 to play.

"What can I say?'' Barber said. "(Eli) is the best second-half quarterback in the league. He just seemed a little more confident picking up what we were doing there in the second half.''

Josh Freeman also displayed some second-half confidence, lofting a ball into the waiting arms of receiver Michael Williams for a 41-yard touchdown that tied the score at 34 with 1:58 to play.

All that did, though, was set the stage for another Manning gem. All the two-time Super Bowl MVP needed to pull it off was another all-out blitz call, and he got it on a first-and-15 play from New York's 39-yard line with 1:28 to play.

Eyeing the blitz and knowing he had Hakeem Nicks one-on-one against Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib, Manning threw another strike that resulted in a 50-yard gain and set up Andre Brown's game-winning score, a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left.

"Their defense was getting tired there and we thought we'd be able to sit back and make some decisions against them,'' Manning said. "It's not the situation you want to be in but it can be fun.''

It certainly wasn't much fun for the Bucs, who were not ready to apologize for their blitz calls, largely because blitz calls, Schiano said, helped them take the lead in the first place. "Really, it was no different than what we'd done throughout the game,'' Schiano said. "If you look at the distribution of pressures, it was the same (in both halves).''

What wasn't the same in both halves was the turnover ratio. The Bucs took the ball away three times and didn't give it up in the first half. They never took it away while giving it up twice on Freeman interceptions in the second.

"That's where the game flipped,'' Schiano said. "In the second half they got the takeaways and they wind up having five, six minutes more of time of possession than we do. Even one takeaway could have put it over the top for us. We just didn't get it.''

What they did get was their first loss under Schiano. Inside the locker room, everyone agreed it was one of those that could haunt them because the chance to win was there.

"Any loss is rough,'' said Freeman, whose second interception came on the offense's final play, a desperation pass from midfield in the final seconds after a 29-yard catch by Williams to the Giants 16-yard line was overruled during a replay review.

"But we kept on fighting until the end and if we were able to make a couple more plays it might not have been that close at the end. It's just a shame, all you can do is go back and learn from it.''