QB Eli Manning is a master of the 4th-Q comeback.
After missing the playoffs in their 2012 Super Bowl defense, the New York Giants will look to make a season-long comeback this fall, and there’s no better quarterback than Eli Manning to guide them on one.
The unwavering New York quarterback has a penchant for late-game heroics, leading the Giants on 24 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, according to the statistic developed by Scott Kacsmar of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
This article will be a tribute to the five best comebacks of his career, ranked based upon the following criteria: size of deficit overcome, presence of an iconic Manning play and significance of the win.
Also, although much of Manning’s postseason magic has been seared into Giants fans’ memories, this list will be limited to comebacks that occurred in regular-season contests.
In 2011, Manning truly established his identity as a comeback artist, as he engineered seven fourth-quarter comebacks that season. Against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4, Manning showcased his first truly breathtaking performance.
Manning and his Giants (2-1) were across the country, trying not to give up a deplorable loss to the lowly Cardinals (1-2), but Arizona running back Beanie Wells was giving Big Blue a world of trouble. Wells rushed for 138 yards and three touchdowns against New York’s defense on that day.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Manning stared down a 10-point deficit. Giants running back Brandon Jacobs smashed in for a one-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the final frame, but Wells and the Cardinals responded shortly thereafter, making the score 27-17 with just over five minutes to play.
Manning made the most of his last two drives of the game. On the first drive, the Giants trudged 80 yards, culminating in a two-yard connection from Manning to tight end Jake Ballard.
The second drive started in Arizona territory and only took two plays: a 19-yard toss to wide receiver Victor Cruz and a beautifully thrown 29-yard arcing pass to a leaping Hakeem Nicks.
Nicks’ touchdown made the score 31-27 with under three minutes left to play. Manning kneeled the ball on the team’s final possession, and the Giants were able to escape Glendale with a win.
A month later, the Giants (5-2) were vying to establish themselves as contenders in the NFC, but the mighty New England Patriots (5-2) were standing in the way in Week 9.
With only 250 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a completion percentage barely above 50, Manning would not have his best statistical day, but his steadfast aura late in the game made his performance memorable.
After a scoreless first half, the Giants shot out to a 10-3 lead in the third quarter, thanks to a Brandon Jacobs run and Lawrence Tynes kick. The lead wouldn’t last, as the Patriots quickly found their stride in the fourth quarter, pulling ahead, 13-10.
Manning fought valiantly against New England’s Tom Brady, the elite quarterback Manning likened himself to before the season began.
With about three minutes to play, Manning threw a 10-yard touchdown to wide receiver Mario Manningham, putting the Giants ahead, 17-13. Brady marched his team down the field on the ensuing possession, finding tight end Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown and a three-point lead.
There was only 1:36 left on the clock when the Giants got the ball back, but that was all Manning needed. Stoically, the New York quarterback led his team on a remarkable game-winning drive, highlighted by an acrobatic 28-yard grab by Jake Ballard over the middle.
On a 3rd-and-1 from the New England one-yard line, Manning found Ballard again, this time in the end zone, giving New York a 24-20 lead with only 15 seconds to play.
The Giants earned their sixth win of the season, and few questioned Manning’s elite status after that victory.
After an abysmal 1-6 start to his career in 2004, many believed Manning would never live up to his draft-day potential. However, in Week 7 of the 2005 season, against the Denver Broncos, Manning showed that great things were on the way for those who had the patience to wait for the young quarterback to develop.
The Giants (3-2) were down, 20-10, to the Broncos (5-1) as the third quarter expired. Denver kicker Jason Elam booted a 27-yarder through the uprights, extending the Broncos’ lead to 13 early in the fourth quarter.
Running back Tiki Barber sliced through Denver’s defense for a four-yard touchdown run, cutting the deficit to six points with just over nine minutes to play. The Giants caught a break on Denver’s next possession, as the usually sure-footed Elam pushed a 49-yard field goal attempt wide right.
New York failed to capitalize on the Broncos’ mistake. Instead, Manning, showing his inexperience, had a pass picked off by Denver cornerback Champ Bailey. The Giants defense stood firm, though, and allowed Manning one last chance by forcing the Broncos to punt with 3:39 left in the game.
Manning, still as green as the Meadowlands turf beneath his feet, took the field with the poise and determination of a seasoned veteran. The second-year quarterback drove his team 83 yards for the game-winning score, connecting with four different receivers along the way.
Manning’s final strike came with only 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter. On a 3rd-and-goal from the two-yard line, Manning took the shotgun snap, backpedaling feverishly to avoid the Denver pass rush, and finally found wide receiver Amani Toomer open in the end zone.
The last second toss to Toomer was the first of many miraculous Manning comebacks.
The Giants’ 2012 Super Bowl defense started out disappointingly, as New York fell to the division rival Dallas Cowboys in Week 1. Manning and the Giants were staring 0-2 in the face while facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) in Week 2, as three first-half interceptions quickly placed the Giants in a 24-13 hole.
Early in the second half, Tampa Bay kicker Connor Barth nailed a 52-yarder, increasing the Buccaneers' lead to 14, the largest of the game. From there, the Giants’ passing game caught fire, and the shootout began.
New York closed the third quarter and opened the fourth quarter with a pair of Lawrence Tynes kicks, closing the gap to only eight points. With just under seven minutes to play, Manning hit a streaking Victor Cruz for an 80-yard touchdown. Running back Andre Brown tumbled in for the two-point conversion, tying the game up at 27.
New York briefly took the lead with four minutes left, as Manning found tight end Martellus Bennett on a perfectly timed wheel route for a 33-yard touchdown. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman provided a timely retort, heaving a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Williams, knotting the game up at 34.
Manning and the Giants got the ball back with 1:58 left in regulation, more than enough time. On back-to-back plays, Manning went deep. The first pass was a 24-yard connection with wide receiver Ramses Barden, and the second, a 50-yarder to Hakeem Nicks.
From the 11-yard line, Brown charged forward on two straight carries, breaking the plain of the goal line on the second one, pushing the Giants to a 41-34 lead. Linebacker Michael Boley sealed the victory for New York with an interception on the ensuing Buccaneers possession.
On 51 pass attempts, Manning threw for a career-high 510 yards and added three touchdown passes. His statistically historical day made for an absolutely unforgettable comeback.
Manning’s career-best comeback came in his third NFL season. In Week 2 of the 2006 season, the young passer engineered a 17-point fourth-quarter performance, setting the stage for an overtime victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, an all-too-familiar foe.
After an early Amani Toomer touchdown, the Giants (0-1) were shut out in the second and third quarters while the Eagles (1-0) built a seemingly insurmountable 24-7 lead. However, the final frame of the contest would strictly belong to Manning and his Giants.
About a minute deep in the fourth quarter, Manning found wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who subsequently fumbled the ball into the end zone. Fellow wide receiver Tim Carter, in a heads-up play, fell on the ball six yards deep in the end zone, giving the Giants their first points since the opening quarter.
Both teams committed a turnover before Manning spotted Amani Toomer open for a 22-yard touchdown completion, cutting the Eagles’ lead to only three points with 3:33 left in regulation. New York forced Philadelphia to punt, and, after a touchback, Manning was able to guide the Giants into field goal range in under a minute. The game headed to overtime in a 24-24 bind.
On the third possession of overtime, Manning led his team on a memorable 85-yard game-winning drive, capping it off with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Burress.
The unlikely comeback was completed, and Manning had given Giants fans a coveted divisional victory that would not be soon forgotten.