Four seasons ago, quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants got the biggest fourth-quarter touchdown a team could possibly score in the North end zone at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Back then, it was a last-minute touchdown pass by Manning to win in Super Bowl XLII.
On Sunday afternoon, the Giants (3-1) scored in that same end zone three times in the final quarter – including twice in 58-second span during the final 3:37 – to rally for a thrilling 31-27 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (1-3).
Prior to the wild finish, the Cardinals seemingly took control of the game late in the fourth quarter behind the offensive balance of star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (8 catches, 102 yards) and running back Beanie Wells (game-highs of 27 carries, 138 yards, and 3 TD’s, all of which were scored in the second half).
Early on, the Giants set the Cardinals up well to get the game’s first couple of touchdowns, but Arizona could only come away with three points.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (12 carries, 39 yards, 1 TD, 1 fumble lost) fumbled after a short reception on the third play of the game, letting the Cardinals begin their opening possession on the New York 16-yard line. But, Arizona was forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal by former Giant kicker Jay Feely that gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead just 1:58 into the game.
A short ensuing kickoff return by Devin Thomas gave the Giants poor field position, and a three-and-out led to a punt that had Arizona start on its own 48-yard line.
However, defensive end Osi Umenyiora (2 sacks), returning from injury, sacked quarterback Kevin Kolb (20-34, 237 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 4 sacks), forcing a fumble that was recovered by rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams (5 tackles, 1 fumble recovery).
New York moved the ball from its own 14 yard-line, into Arizona territory for the first time, but the Giants were forced to punt.
The Cardinals then embarked on a 16-play, 79-yard march which consumed 9:20, to increase their lead to 6-0 on another 27-yard field goal from Feely, with 7:57 left in the first half. The kick was set up in part, by a 16-yard completion from Kolb to tight end Rob Housler (his only catch) on 3rd-and-17 from the New York 37-yard line.
The Giants answered by taking a 7-6 lead on the next possession, as Bradshaw scored on a 13-yard touchdown run after Manning (27-40, 321 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack) completing three passes of double digit yards to help drive New York 69 yards in ten plays.
Late in the first half, Manning again drove the Giants with little time to work. Manning completed a 22-pass to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who led all receivers with ten catches and 162 yards to go along with the game-winning touchdown grab.
Manning then connected with wide receiver Victor Cruz (6 catches, 98 yards) on a 26-yard strike. A penalty on the Cardinals tacked on another 13 yards to the Arizona 12-yard line, as the Giants moved 61 yards in just 16 seconds. That set up a 30-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes which pushed New York’s lead to 10-6 with one second left in the half.
On Arizona’s opening drive of the second half, Fitzgerald became the Cardinals’ all-time leader in reception yards (he finished the game with 8,565) with a brilliant 47-yard catch (to the Giants’ 11-yard line) that he wrestled away from safety Deon Grant. Fitzgerald then caught a short first down pass and Wells finished off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run that regain the lead for Arizona, 13-10, with 10:24 left in the third quarter.
After the teams traded punts, Manning was sacked by defensive tackle David Carter (2 tackles, 1 sack) and fumbled. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) pounced on the loose ball at the Giants’ 5-yard line.
Wells then ran for four yards before scoring on another one-yard touchdown run to extend Arizona’s led to 20-10 with 2:55 remaining in the period.
The Giants countered with an impressive drive though, methodically moving 75 yards on 13 plays in 5:42, cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 20-17 on a one-yard touchdown plunge by running back Brandon Jacobs (9 carries, just 18 yards, 1 TD) with 12:07 left in the game.
Three plays later, safety Antrel Rolle (6 tackles, 1 PD, 1 INT) picked off Kolb at the New York 27-yard line, but the Giants stalled at the Arizona 44-yard line and punted.
Wells, three plays after that, gained 39 yards off the left side (to the Giants’ 18-yard line), to go over 100 yards for just the second time in his career, and for the first time since 2009, the year he was selected by Cardinals in the first round.
While the hard-working Wells caught his breath, undrafted rookie running back Alfonso Smith (2 carries, 16 yards) provided a change of pace with runs of for and 12 yards before Wells finished off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run to lengthen Arizona’s lead to 27-17 with 5:16 remaining.
The Giants appeared to be in trouble at that point, but within a span of four plays, Manning completed passes of 21 yards (to tight end Jake Ballad), 20 yards (to Cruz), and 26 yards (to Nicks), each to the right side, to quickly move the ball to the Cardinals’ 2-yard line.
Ballard (3 catches, 33 yards) finished the drive on the next play with a nice two-yard touchdown reception from Manning, as he tapped his toes down in the back of the end zone, to get New York to within 27-24, with 3:37 left.
The Cardinals rushed Wells for three yards on their next possession, but Kolb then threw incomplete twice, forcing an Arizona punt.
Aaron Ross returned the kick 18 yards to the Arizona 48-yard line, and the Giants needed just two plays – along with the help of a controversial ruling – to find that magical North end zone one more time for a late come-from behind win in the desert.
Manning completed a 19-yard pass to Cruz who realized he ran out of real estate. Cruz dove to the ground head first and got up untouched, leaving the ball on the ground, appearing to have carelessly fumbled.
However, according to NFL rules, Cruz was correctly ruled as having “given himself up” and he therefore didn’t need to be touched down by a defender.
“I thought we got a break on that one,” said Manning.
Not that he nor the rest of the Giants would have given it back.
In the same way that Manning and New York benefitted from both a dropped ball on what should have been an interception by New England Patriot Asante Samuel and by the famous “helmet catch” by former Giant wide receiver David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants immediately capitalized on the ruling on Cruz’s catch.
Manning completed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Nicks on the next play, to put New York ahead for good, 31-27, with 2:39 remaining.
Kolb drove the Cardinals 46 yards to the Giants’ 30-yard line, but he threw incomplete on 4th-and-2 with 51 seconds left. Cornerback Corey Webster (4 tackles, 2 PD) denied Fitzgerald on the play, allowing New York to run out the clock and escape with a victory that has the Giants tied for first place with the Washington Redskins (3-1) at the one-quarter mark of the season.
Next up for New York is its second straight NFC West foe, as the Giants will seek their fourth consecutive win when Seattle (1-3) pays a visit to MetLife stadium, at 1 pm ET next Sunday.