FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Super Bowl or midseason game, Eli Manning and the New York Giants are masters of the last-minute comeback against the New England Patriots.
Manning capped a decisive drive eerily similar to the one in the 2008 Super Bowl, throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ballard with 15 seconds left and giving the Giants a 24-20 win on Sunday.
“I knew we would win,” Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said. “It definitely took me back to the Super Bowl.”
In that 17-14 victory, Manning threw a 13-yard scoring pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds to go. Four plays earlier, David Tyree trapped Manning’s third-down pass over the middle on top of his helmet for a 32-yard gain.
On Sunday, the teams met in a meaningful game for the first time since then. And Manning threw another completion over the middle to an unheralded receiver on third down, connecting with a leaping Ballard for a 28-yard gain. Five plays later, they hooked up for the winning pass.
“If it was thrown anywhere else, I wouldn’t have caught it,” Ballard said. “You dream about making catches like that.”
And Ballard’s number? The same as Tyree’s, 85.
Manning, of course, threw all those passes, outplaying Tom Brady, who is known for his fourth-quarter comebacks.
“I’d rather be down by three with a minute-thirty (left) than up by four with a minute-thirty with Tom Brady, with their offense on the field,” Manning said. “You like those situations where you have an opportunity to go win the game.”
The Giants (6-2) kept their two-game lead in the NFC East over the Dallas Cowboys. The Patriots (5-3) are tied with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, next week’s opponent, atop the AFC East.
“We’ve got half the season to go,” Brady said. “We’ll see what our team’s made of this week.”
The loss ended several impressive streaks: wins in an NFL record 31 regular-season starts at home for Brady and in 20 regular-season home games for the Patriots.
Brady did throw a touchdown pass for the 24th straight regular-season home games. But the Patriots lost consecutive games for just the third time since the start of the 2003 season.
The Giants won for the sixth time in seven games.
“We got a little carried away,” defensive end Justin Tuck said when asked about players lifting coach Tom Coughlin on their shoulders in the locker room. “Considering how good that team is and what they’ve done here in the last 20 games, it was a big win, and to win it in the fashion that we won it, it brings back memories.”
For a while, it looked like the Patriots would win with a comeback when Brady threw a 14-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski, making it 20-17 with 1:36 to go.
But the Giants had enough time. And they had Manning.
They were helped by a 20-yard pass interference penalty against Sergio Brown that put the ball at the 1 with 30 seconds left.
“I was looking at the ball the whole time,” Brown said. “I was surprised. They come and tell us as long as we’re looking at the ball we can play the ball.”
Three plays later, Manning found Ballard in the back left corner of the end zone.
“I knew I’d be hit hard,” Ballard said. “I concentrated as hard as I could.”
He was guarded by Kyle Arrington.
“We’re going to be hard on ourselves,” Arrington said. “We don’t take losing well.”
After a scoreless first half, the Patriots took their first lead, 13-10, on Stephen Gostkowski’s 45-yard field goal with 7:08 to go in the game. Manning then led the Giants on an 85-yard march to a 10-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham with 3:03 remaining.
The Giants won despite injuries that kept their top rusher, Ahmad Bradshaw, and leading receiver, Hakeem Nicks, from making the trip. But New York’s defense pressured Brady much of the game, coming up with two sacks and two interceptions.
Manning completed 20 of 39 passes for 250 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Brady was 28 for 49 for 342 yards and two touchdowns.
Both quarterbacks struggled throughout the first half.
The offense was so bad that fans booed when Brady threw an incompletion with 8:30 left in the third quarter. They cheered on the next play when Aaron Ross fumbled Zoltan Mesko’s punt and Rob Ninkovich recovered.
But the Patriots managed just a 32-yard field goal by Gostkowski that cut the lead to 10-3.
The Giants punted on the next series and got the ball back when Spencer Paysinger recovered Julian Edelman’s fumble.
Manning moved the Giants from the Patriots 40 to a third-and-goal at the 5, then threw an interception to Arrington in the end zone. Seven plays later, Brady hit Aaron Hernandez for a 5-yard touchdown, tying the game at 10 just 32 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Giants had much better field position in the first half, starting at their 23, 22, 36, 28, 25 and 49. But all those series ended with punts.
The Patriots began at their 5, 6, 17, 20, 11 and 9. They punted four times and lost one interception before wasting their best scoring opportunity when Gostkowski pulled his 27-yard field goal attempt to the left with 3 seconds remaining. On that drive, the Patriots had five first downs, matching their total to that point.
Notes: The Giants have forced at least one turnover in 21 straight regular-season games. … Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul had a sack for the fifth straight game. … The Giants have 14 players remaining from the 2008 Super Bowl team, the Patriots have seven.