New York Giants: Top 10 Games of the Eli Manning Era

Chris LandersContributor IIIJuly 27, 2012

New York Giants: Top 10 Games of the Eli Manning Era

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    He may not have established himself as elite until 2011, but Eli Manning has always had a flair for the dramatic. There have certainly been some downs during the past seven and a half years, but Big Blue have brought two Super Bowl trophies back to New Jersey—and they've caused a whole lot of heart attacks along the way.

    As training camp gets under way and all eyes turn toward 2012, let's take a one more look back at the greatest moments from the Eli Manning era in the Meadowlands. 

Criteria

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    The only thing people love more than a list is arguing about how wrong it was, so in my own preemptive defense here are the criteria I used:

    The Giants Win

    The Giants have certainly lost their fair share of games over the past seven years. (Here's where I'd put another hyperlink to DeSean Jackson's punt return, but I might vomit if I have to watch that play again.) But this is a Giants list, and so for a game to be considered it has to be one New York won—and let's be honest, how great can a game really be if the Giants don't win. 

     

    Quality of the Game

    Just because a game is tight doesn't mean it's well-played—anyone remember that abysmal matchup with the Dolphins in London a few years ago? The games we remember the most aren't just the ones that are close, but the ones where guys make plays we didn't think possible. 

     

    Significance to the Season/Team

    Pulling out a win over the Bengals in Week 4 doesn't quite mean as much as beating the Eagles with the division on the line in Week 15. Great games are formed in big moments, and the impact of a game on the season or the development of the team has to be considered. 

     

    Quality of Opponent

    You may have noticed already, but the Giants have a tendency to make games interesting that really shouldn't be. This team has mastered the art of playing to your competition, and with that in mind games where New York struggled to beat a bottom-feeder won't be put above a classic battle for the NFC East lead. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Week 2, 2009: Giants 33, Cowboys 31

    The Giants entered 2009 looking to get off to a fast start and put last year's playoff collapse to Philadelphia in the rear view, and only a Sunday night road trip to Dallas stood in the way of a very manageable early schedule. The grand opening of Jerry World was a wild one, as neither defense did much of anything to slow down Eli Manning and Tony Romo. It would come down to whoever had the ball last, and after Felix Jones put the Cowboys ahead Eli lead his team back down the field to set up a Lawrence Tynes 37-yarder as time expired. 

     

    Week 15, 2004: Steelers 33, Giants 30

    Okay, I know I just said the Giants had to win the game for it to be considered, but it's my list so bear with me. This was an absolute thriller, and it earns an honorable mention for its significance in the development then-rookie Eli Manning. Eli had taken over the starting job from the struggling Kurt Warner just four weeks prior, and quite frankly, he had looked pretty dreadful up to this point. The angry mob was already beginning to form when the 12-1 Steelers rolled into town, lead by fellow rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the league's best defense. It had all the makings of a blowout, except a funny thing happened: Manning started playing like the No. 1 overall draft pick. Eli tossed two touchdowns on the day, and even though a final drive in the waning minutes fell short the Giants finally saw a glimpse of the potential they had pinned their hopes to. 

     

    Week 17, 2006: Giants 34, Redskins 28

    The Giants traveled to the nation's capital needing a win in the final week of the season to clinch a playoff birth. Playing in his final regular season game as a Giant, Tiki Barber decided to put the entire offense on his back—he set the team's single-game record for rushing yards with 234 to go along with three touchdowns, putting the game on ice with a 50-yard sprint to the end zone in the fourth quarter. Tom Coughlin became the first coach since Bill Parcells to take the Giants to the playoffs in consecutive seasons. 

     

    Week 13, 2009: Giants 31, Cowboys 24

    In the midst of one of the worst second-half collapses in team history, the Giants came into a home matchup with division-leading Dallas needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The teams exchanged blows until Domenik Hixon decided to break things open, taking a punt back 79 yards to pay dirt and sending Giants Stadium into a frenzy. It was the first time New York had swept the Cowboys since 2004, and Big Blue lived to fight another day. 

10. Week 9, 2011: Giants 24, Patriots 20

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    The Giants made the trip up to Foxboro at a pivotal point in their season—they'd looked underwhelming in a narrow win over the Dolphins, and the 49ers, Saints and Packers all lay ahead on the schedule. Big Blue had to prove they belonged with the elite teams in the NFL, and what better test than the 5-2 Patriots.

    The game featured two of the NFL's hottest quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Tom Brady, but turnovers and sloppy play marred a scoreless first half. New York took a 10-3 lead into the fourth, and that's where things got interesting.

    Brady remembered that he was Brady, surgically picking apart the Giants secondary on back-to-back scoring drives to put New England on top.

    After the teams traded touchdowns, the scene was set for something Giants fans would get awfully used to over the next couple of months: less than two minutes to go, Eli Manning making plays with the game on the line. 

    Down three with a minute and a half left, Manning went to work as if he was making his morning coffee. With some help from a miraculous third-down catch from Jake Ballard, New York marched 80 yards in just over a minute to take the lead and the game on a two-yard touchdown pass.

    In all, the fourth quarter featured 31 points and four lead changes, and the Giants started laying the foundation for their magical run to Super Bowl XLVI.

9. Week 7, 2005: Giants 24, Broncos 23

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    In the fall of 2005, the jury was still very much out on Eli Manning. He had struggled mightily in the second half of 2004, too inaccurate and too careless with the ball to be a franchise quarterback. 

    That all began to change one Sunday in late October. Jake Plummer and the Broncos rolled into the Meadowlands having won five games in a row, and through three quarters everything was going according to plan. Tiki Barber hadn't found anywhere to run, Eli was erratic and the Giants found themselves down 23-10 heading to the final 15 minutes.

    But New York would get an assist from those swirling winds at Giants Stadium. After a touchdown cut Denver's lead to six, usually reliable Jason Elam pushed a 49-yard attempt wide right, and just like that the door had been opened. The Giant defense got the ball back to Eli one more time, and it was time for him to show that he could be the man for Big Blue. 

    Manning worked his way methodically down the field, and after an absolute laser of a throw to Jeremy Shockey put the Giants in the red zone, the stage was set. 

    With twelve seconds left, Manning took the snap from the Denver two-yard line, scrambled away from the blitz and found Amani Toomer off his back foot for the game-winning touchdown. (Side note: look at the block Tiki Barber makes. The guy is 5'11" on his best day, and he absolutely stoned that linebacker.) 

    The Meadowlands erupted, and the 24-23 win sparked the Giants to an 11-5 record that year. Even more importantly, it gave everyone a glimpse of just how special Eli could be. 

8. Week 2, 2006: Giants 30, Eagles 24 (OT)

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    The Giants entered 2006 with high expectations. They were the defending NFC East champions, with a starting quarterback that appeared to finally turn a corner the year prior. Everyone knew that the road back to the top of the NFC East would go through Philly, and the two teams faced off in a big matchup early in the year.

    New York dug themselves a huge hole, as Donovan McNabb and Giant-killer Brian Westbrook torched Big Blue en route to a 24-7 lead through three quarters. The Giants were in danger of being buried by their division rival, until all of a sudden everything changed.

    Two Eagles turnovers led to two New York touchdowns, and after the Giants defense forced another punt Eli and company had the ball with 58 seconds left and a chance to force overtime with a field goal. The drive was helped by a Trent Cole personal foul, and the comeback was complete when Jay Feely connected from 35 yards away. (Yes, Giants fans, there was a time where Jay Feely didn't miss field goals!)

    The teams would trade punts to open overtime, and Plaxico Burress would take it from there. The Eagles brought the house on 3rd-and-11 leaving man coverage on the outside, and Eli threw it up and let Plax make a play.

    All told, Manning went 31-for-43 for 371 yards and three scores, and the Giants drew first blood against their division rivals. 

7. Week 3, 2007: Giants 24, Redskins 17

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    The 2007 season would have a magical ending for Big Blue, but things didn't exactly start out that way. The Giants stumbled out of the gate, dropping their first two games while giving up a combined 80 points. 

    That set up a huge game in Week 3 at the Redskins, a division game they absolutely had to have. But it was Washington who came out like the team with their backs to the wall, jumping out to a 17-3 halftime lead.

    Staring an 0-3 record in the face, New York finally got things turned around. Eli Manning caught fire, leading three touchdown drives to give the Giants an astonishing 24-17 lead late in the fourth. Big Blue's defense had to make one more stop to escape with a win, and they would bend just about as far as they could before they got it.

    Jason Campbell drove the 'Skins down the field, setting up first and goal at the one with under a minute to play. All signs pointed to overtime, until New York made the stand that saved their season. After two incomplete passes and a run for no gain, Ladell Betts took the ball off left tackle on 4th-and-goal. He was tripped up in the backfield, and just like that, the Giants had pulled off the unthinkable. 

    The rest is well documented by this point, but that dream season might not have ever happened if not for one goal line stand in late September. 

6. Week 17, 2008: Giants 34, Panthers 28

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    Once upon a time, the 2008 Giants were the most dominant team in the NFL. The defending Super Bowl champs pounded teams into submission with the best offensive line in football, sprinting out to an 11-1 record before Plaxico Burress blew everything to pieces (ahem). 

    But despite all of that, New York still had a chance to clinch the top seed in the NFC with a Sunday night win at home against the Carolina Panthers in the final week of the season.  

    It's easy to forget how dangerous those Panthers teams in the mid-00s were, but Jake Delhomme and company had seemingly endless firepower. This was a classic back-and-forth between two playoff teams with a whole lot to play for, and it was Carolina who came out with a purpose early. DeAngelo Williams shred New York for three touchdowns in the first half, and Carolina went up 21-13 at the break. 

    From there the teams would trade punches like a heavyweight fight, answering with big play after big play, until with just over three minutes left Brandon Jacobs plunged in for the tying touchdown. New York then got another assist from those Meadowlands winds, as John Kasay's 50-yard attempt at the gun went wide right to force overtime. 

    In the extra session, Derrick Ward capped off his monster day with a 51-yard dash to set up John Carney's game-winning field goal. The Giants had stopped the bleeding and gone into the postseason as the favorites in the NFC (unfortunately, that didn't last very long.)

5. Week 14, 2011: Giants 37, Cowboys 34

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    This game seems like it happened only yesterday, and boy, was it wild. 

    The Giants came to Dallas in early December needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They had dropped four in a row and sat precariously at .500, with the Cowboys threatening to put a stranglehold on the division. But despite how hard New York's defense tried, Eli Manning would simply not let Big Blue lose. 

    The teams basically played pinball for three quarters, trading scores until Mario Manningham's 47-yard touchdown catch put the G-Men up 22-20 heading to the fourth. Then things really got out of hand, and the next fifteen minutes will be forever remembered in Giants lore. 

    New York's secondary seemingly forgot how to cover people in the final quarter, giving up two Tony Romo touchdown passes to make it a 34-22 game with less than six minutes left. Little did we know, Eli was just biding his time.

    Manning had to score and score quickly, and that's exactly what he did. He drove the Giants right down the field, hitting Jake Ballard in the end zone to give New York a chance. Dallas had the opportunity to put the game away, but Romo overthrew a wide open Miles Austin on third down. Just like that, Eli had the ball back, and everyone could guess what would happen next.

    Manning delivered dagger after dagger, moving the Giants down the field and setting up a Brandon Jacobs touchdown run with less than a minute left. But these are the Giants, of course, so you know it couldn't end that easily.

    Romo got his team in field-goal range with just seconds left, and rookie Dan Bailey lined up to send the game into overtime. The ball was snapped, and Bailey appeared to drill a 47-yarder as time expired. But the kick was waved off thanks to the greatest timeout Tom Coughlin has ever taken, and Bailey's second attempt was blocked by Jason Pierre-Paul. Ballgame over, and you know what happened next

4. 2007 NFC Championship Game: Giants 23, Packers 20 (OT)

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    The 2007 Giants certainly weren't flashy. Their defense (especially in the secondary) could be beat, and Eli wasn't exactly setting the world on fire just yet. To this day I'm not sure what it was about that team, but all they did was find ways to win games. Over and over again.

    New York came into frigid Lambeau Field (and we mean really, really frigid) on a tear, having just shocked the top-seed Dallas Cowboys on their home field in the divisional round.  All of a sudden, the team everyone refused to take seriously was on the doorstep of a Super Bowl, and anything seemed possible. 

    This game never really felt like one the Giants should lose, but a team that had capitalized on every opportunity over the past few weeks suddenly couldn't do enough to put Green Bay away. They dominated much of the first half, but only had six points to show for it. Donald Driver's 90-yard touchdown reception late in the second flipped the entire game around and gave the Pack the lead heading into halftime. 

    The teams traded scores to open up the second half, setting up what still might be the most maddening fifteen minutes of football I've ever had to watch.

    Early in the fourth with New York clinging to a three-point lead, R.W. McQuarters came up with a huge interception in Giants territory—only to fumble the ball right back to Green Bay. A Mason Crosby field goal tied things up, and both offenses seemed determined to give the game away after that.

    Eli Manning repeatedly put his team in position to win behind Plaxico Burress's best game as a Giant, but Lawrence Tynes hooked two field goals wide in the final seven minutes to bring on overtime.

    And then it happened. Brett Favre floated a pass out toward the sideline, Corey Webster snatched it, Tynes finally, mercifully made a kick, and just like that, New York had punched its ticket to the Super Bowl. Tom Coughlin's skeleton face will forever live in our hearts.

3. 2011 NFC Championship Game: Giants 20, 49ers 17 (OT)

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    I flipped these two NFC Championship Games back and forth countless times, but in the end this year's contest was too great to pick against. 

    This was probably the most physical football game I've ever watched, a flat out street fight that was enough to make Lawrence Taylor blush. The two teams knocked the snot out of each other for sixty minutes, and when that wasn't enough to settle things, they did it some more in overtime.

    Two long Vernon Davis touchdown catches had put New York on the ropes. Hardly a play went by where Eli didn't end up on his back, and San Francisco's relentless defensive front swallowed up anything the Giants threw at it. 

    The G-Men needed a break to stem the tide, and they got one in the form of Niners receiver/punt returner Kyle Williams. Williams had a punt bounce off his knee early in the fourth quarter that led to the go-ahead score for New York, then fumbled another in overtime to set up Tynes's game-winning field goal. 

    This was the most entertaining a 20-17 game could possibly be, two teams desperately fighting for a trip to the Super Bowl, and it gets the nod over '07 for just how high the level of play was. 

2. Super Bowl XLVI: Giants 21, Patriots 17

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    This would be number one on just about any other list, but sadly, one of the greatest Super Bowls ever wasn't quite thrilling enough. 

    After just squeaking into the postseason, New York had become the hottest team with the hottest quarterback in football. And who else but the Patriots could stand in the way of a second championship in five years. 

    The Giants punched New England in the mouth in the early going, forcing a safety on the first possession of the game and taking a 9-0 lead into the second quarter. It seemed almost too easy up to that point, and sure enough, Tom Brady soon woke the beast within.

    The Pats came firing back with consecutive touchdowns to go up by eight. New York's secondary, which had played so well the past few weeks, was suddenly on its heels, and an entire season threatened to go up in flames. 

    But as he always does, Eli stayed calm and poised, methodically leading yet another fourth-quarter comeback. The Giants just kept chipping away, getting stops and pulling to within two at the start of the fourth quarter. 

    Each team's defense would stiffen, leading to a tense back-and-forth as the clock continued to wind down. New England had a chance to put the game away driving into New York territory. But a Wes Welker drop forced a punt, and Eli took it home from there. 

    Starting at his own 12, Manning threw possibly the greatest pass in Super Bowl history, hitting Mario Manningham up the sideline between two converging defenders. Ahmad Bradshaw (inadvertently) scored to give the Giants the lead, but Brady had almost a minute to lead his team back down the field. 

    It came down to one final play, a Hail Mary to the end zone as time expired, and of course New York didn't make it easy on us. Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker were in the end zone unchecked, but the deflected pass fell just out of their reach to give the Giants the win. 

1. Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14

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    It was quite possibly the greatest Super Bowl ever played, and every Giants fan will always remember exactly where they were when they watched it. 

    The Giants weren't supposed to be there, and the Patriots were supposed to be unbeatable. New England had been an offensive buzzsaw all year, setting records and leaving defenses in their wake. Wes Welker darted over, around and through secondaries. Randy Moss seemed as though he could score just about whenever he wanted. Heck, they could even run the ball when they felt like it. And everything was orchestrated by Tom Brady, who came as close to flawless as you can get in 2007. 

    There was only one problem: New York simply didn't care. The Giants front four bottled up Laurence Maroney and terrorized Brady, sacking him five times (two from Justin Tuck, who was downright unstoppable all night.) 

    Eli and the offense did their part, keeping Brady on the sideline for much of the game. New England didn't even get the ball until they were down 3-0 with five minutes left in the first quarter, and it was a slugfest from there. 

    Early in the fourth, Manning hit David Tyree in the back of the end zone to give New York the lead, and it looked as if the unthinkable might just happen. But then Brady went all surgical on the Giants secondary, finding Moss for a touchdown, and the old script started being written again. These were the Patriots after all, and this was what the Patriots did. 

    The Giants took the field with two and a half minutes left and 83 yards in front of them, and Eli Manning permanent etched his name permanently into Giants lore. Following a couple of completions (and one heart-stopping fourth down conversion by Brandon Jacobs), New York had a 3rd-and-5 from near midfield.

    Manning was swarmed by Adalius Thomas, but kept battling, eventually fighting out of the pocket and scrambling backwards. He uncorked what seemed to be a blind heave into the middle of the field. Tyree went up for it, taking the ball away from Rodney Harrison and pinning it against his helmet on the way down for one of the most miraculous catches in football history.

    Manning then hit Burress for a touchdown, and New York had slayed the giant.