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Manning With Monster Day To Lead Giants

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 16: Victor Cruz #80 of the New York Giants lines up an 80-yard pass for a touchdown in front of Ronde Barber #20 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at MetLife Stadium on September 16, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 16: Victor Cruz #80 of the New York Giants lines up an 80-yard pass for a touchdown in front of Ronde Barber #20 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at MetLife Stadium on September 16, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Eli Manning needed a near-record
performance to make up for his own mistakes and help the Super Bowl
champion New York Giants avoid a second straight loss.

Manning threw for 510 yards and three touchdowns and capped the
second greatest passing day by a Giants’ quarterback by setting up
Andre Brown’s game-winning 2-yard run with a 50-yard pass that
lifted New York to a wild 41-34 victory Sunday over the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers.

The game featured four touchdowns in the final 6:48, and ended
with some postgame squabbling between Giants coach Tom Coughlin and
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano. Coughlin screamed at the former
Rutgers coach after Manning was knocked down on the final play
because the Bucs went all out to try to force a fumble on a
kneel-down.

“I told some of our young players, you’ve played in big games
in college, but this is something else,” Giants defensive captain
Justin Tuck said. “This is what you live for. We’d have liked to
play better, but if I was a fan at the game and not so close, I
would have enjoyed it.”

Manning, who completed 31 of 51 passes, made it really enjoyable
for Giants’ fans. The two-time Super Bowl MVP overcame a miserable
first half with a 295 yards passing in the second half, tying for
the eighth most in NFL history and coming up 3 yards short of Phil
Simms’ club record. After his three first-half interceptions staked
the Bucs (1-1) to an 11-point lead, Manning was nearly flawless
when the Giants needed him at his best.

“Eli hung in. He made a couple of bad plays, but he didn’t get
discouraged,” Coughlin said. “We just kept talking about the
character of this team and we finally made some plays and came
back.”

Manning threw touchdowns of 23 yards to Hakeem Nicks, 80 to
Victor Cruz and 33 to Martellus Bennett with 3:59 to play to give
New York a 34-27 lead. After Cruz scored and celebrated with his
trademark salsa, Brown scored on a 2-point conversion run to tie
the game.

“Nobody wants to start 0-2, so it was a big win, especially
after the first half playing poorly,” said Manning, whose previous
single-game best was 420 yards passing against Seattle in a loss
last season. “After not playing well, it’s kind of getting back to
that level of playing good football. Really good. No punts, no
turnovers. Some big-time plays and stepping up when we needed it,
that was fun to have.”

In 1951, Los Angeles’ Norm Van Brocklin threw for a record 554
yards against New York.

Josh Freeman tied the game at 34-all with a 41-yard pass to Mike
Williams, but Manning drove New York 80 yards in four plays to win
it. A 50-yard completion to Nicks led to Brown’s score, which came
one play after he kneeled at the 2 when Tampa Bay was letting him
score.

“They made plays. It’s a game of inches,” Schiano said. “They
were able to make them. We were close and we didn’t. Just got to do
a better job all around, coaching, playing.

Schiano defended the way the Bucs played on the final snap,
saying his team will play through the final whistle, which came one
play after Michael Boley intercepted Freeman’s pass at the Giants
30 in the closing seconds.

Manning was not hurt, but there was shoving and maybe even
punches in the scrum.

“It was a little bit of a cheap shot,” Manning said. “We’re
taking a knee in a friendly way and they’re firing off. It’s a good
way to get someone hurt.”

Manning’s effort helped the Giants gain 604 yards and hold the
ball for 33:29. Cruz, who attended his grandmother’s funeral on
Friday, and Hicks, who has battled foot injuries all season and had
a foot stomped on in the Giants’ 25-point fourth quarter, both had
career games.

Cruz finished with 11 catches for 179 yards, both career highs,
while Nicks had 10 catches for 199 yards, with the yardage a
personal best.

The Giants are the second team in NFL history to have a 500-yard
passer and two 150-yard receivers in the same game. Van Brocklin’s
’51 Rams were the first.

“This team always says we’re going to come back. It’s just a
confidence level you’ve got to have,” Nicks said. “Eli is an
elite quarterback, so there’s a confidence that he can get it
done.”

Lawrence Tynes kicked four field goals for the Giants, who
played a lot better after a season-opening 24-17 loss to Dallas 10
days ago. But they trailed for most of the game.

Freeman finished 15 of 28 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The
first score covered 29 yards to Vincent Jackson, who had five
catches for 128 yards. Doug Martin (20 for 66) ran 8 yards for a TD
and Eric Wright returned the last of Manning’s interceptions 60
yards for a touchdown just :08 before halftime.

“It hurts, but I still believe in my teammates, and the
coaching, and the staff,” Buccaneers defensive lineman Michael
Bennett said. “It’s going to come together and it’s going to be
something great.”

The Bucs turned Manning’s three first-half interceptions into 21
points, with the most crushing pick being Wright’s 60-yard return
for a 24-13 lead. Manning was moving New York into position for a
field goal when Wright simply reached up and snatched Manning’s
short pass to Cruz. He then weaved his way through a logjam and
down the sideline.

Linebacker Mason Foster got the first interception at the Giants
28 early in the second quarter when Manning didn’t put enough air
under a touch pass to Bennett.

Three plays later, Freeman showed poise under pressure and
lofted an arcing pass that Jackson caught in stride for a
touchdown.

Backup cornerback Brandon McDonald got the second interception
as the replacement officials missed a holding call on Barber
against Cruz. McDonald returned it 40 yards and a personal foul
moved the ball to the 13. Martin scored two plays later.

Manning’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Nicks closed the gap to
17-13, but Wright ended the half with his big play.

“He made some throws,” Barber said. “They made more plays
than we did. One more, in fact.”

NOTES: Wright’s interception return was the 40th defensive TD
for the Bucs since 2000, the third most in the NFL behind Baltimore
and Green Bay, who are tied at 42. …Tampa Bay PK Connor Barth
made field goals of 45 and 52 yards and now has made 20 straight.
…Foster led the Bucs with 13 tackles. …The Giants had two sacks
with linebacker Chase Blackburn and Jason Pierre-Paul recording
them. …Pierre-Paul led New York with eight tackles. ..The Giants
rushed for 94 yards against a Bucs’ defense that limited Carolina
to 10 yards in the season opener.
___
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/pol l and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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