Exciting, thrilling, breathtaking, exhilarating, rousing, gripping, stirring, and electrifying. The Giants’ 26-23 overtime victory Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals in Giants Stadium was all that and more.
RB Brandon Jacobs scored on a one-yard touchdown run in the first half.
John Carney’s 22-yard field goal 6:21 into the extra period ended a wild game that included four lead changes and three ties. The teams scored three times in the final 4:39 of regulation, including a touchdown by the Giants with 1:50 remaining and Shayne’s Graham’s game-tying field goal as time expired.
When the dust had settled, the Giants were 3-0 for the first time since 2000 heading into their bye. The Bengals dropped to 0-3.
"My message today was…it ended up being really the power of the will,” Coach Tom Coughlin said. “It wasn’t our best game, by any means, but we hung in there, we kept battling and scrapping, and in what was not our best game, we found a way to win against a good football team. I don’t care if they are 0-2 [coming in] or not, they play in a tough division and they are a good team.”
The Giants were at their best when the pressure was at its highest, as they have been so many times the last two seasons. They drove for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter (though that lead proved to be temporary) and the game-winner in overtime.
“I don’t know and I don’t know if I want to know,” Eli Manning said when asked why the Giants are so successful on late-game drives. “It’s just kind of a deal where we have a fight in us that when things are tough we play our best, the best comes out of us. You’d like to play at that level all the time, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. People get all nervous when it gets tight at the end. Our guys seem to really relax and just do a great job making plays.”
“I think you expect that we are going to play well when the pressure is on and we are going to find a way to win the game,” Coughlin said. “We did that today, although it was a difficult game.”
A game Manning called “a fun one” turned heart-stopping in the fourth quarter when T.J. Houshmandzadeh (12 catches for 146 yards) caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to give the Bengals a 20-16 lead with 4:39 remaining.
Manning and the offense responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Boss and a 23-20 advantage with only 1:50 remaining. Derrick Ward started the series with a 22-yard run and Steve Smith made the key play when he turned a short Manning pass into a 15-yard gain on 3rd-and-10.
Boss, who did not catch a pass in the first two games, jumped for the ball and held on despite getting blasted as he caught the ball.
“I knew we had several plays in there where I could get an opportunity to get the ball,” Boss said. “I was able to come down with it in traffic. It felt really nice to be able to contribute today. I was able to make some big plays and I felt like I contributed to the victory. It was a long game, but it was a lot of fun. We battled back and forth. It was a great football game to play in.”
And it was far from finished after Boss scored. Palmer showed why he’s a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback when he led the Bengals down the field against the strong Giants defense and with the crowd roaring.
Houshmandzadeh caught four passes for 53 yards on the drive and Antonio Chatman was stopped at the three-yard line after an 11-yard catch with only four seconds remaining. Graham then kicked his third field goal to send the game into overtime.
The teams traded punts in the extra period before the Giants took possession on their own 34–yard line with 10:28 remaining. On second down, Manning threw a pass up the left sideline for Plaxico Burress, who hauled it in for a 28-yard gain. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-10, Manning went back to the same side of the field for Amani Toomer, who gained 31 yards to the Cincinnati seven.
“I needed it,” Toomer said. “I just got an opportunity to make a play. Things don’t always go the way you want it, but if it comes down to it, I’m there. Going into overtime we knew we had a lot of momentum left. We just find a way to win. That is the key to this team. We just found a way to win. I’m real excited.”
Ward ran for three yards before Carney—who earlier had kicked field goals of 24, 46, and 22 yards—made it a perfect foursome for the game and nine-for-nine since he was signed five days before the season opener.
“This one, for me, as an opportunity to fill in for Lawrence [Tynes] and to be a part of the world champs, has been a great blessing for me,” Carney said. “I thank the good Lord to have this opportunity and to come away with a 'W' today. This was big for the Giants. The Bengals came in here with a lot of fire in their belly, they played a great game. Fortunately, we made the plays in overtime to pull it out.”
Tynes will presumably by ready to kick when the Giants play again in two weeks, after their bye. But Carney, a 44-year-old, 21-season veteran, has been perfect.
“He has done very well,” said Coughlin, who has not said what his plan is for the kickers. “Let’s face it, pretty much everything we have asked the guy to do he has done it, plus his kickoffs have been outstanding, directional kickoffs. He puts the ball outside the numbers and gives you a chance with some flexibility on different types of coverage schemes, too.”
Carney seems ready for any decision Coughlin will might make.
“I realize at this point in my career and this opportunity, I am a relief pitcher,” Carney said. “And when my job is done I will go back to the bullpen and hope for another opportunity somewhere around the league.”
Carney’s outstanding performance was one of many that pushed the Giants along against Cincinnati. Manning completed 26 of 43 passes for 289 yards and did not throw an interception for the second week in a row. Steve Smith had career-high totals of seven receptions for 60 yards. Ward was the leading rusher with 80 yards. Brandon Jacobs scored the Giants’ other touchdown. The defense sacked Palmer six times, including two by Fred Robbins. Antonio Pierce had 13 tackles (10 solo) and Kevin Dockery had nine (eight solo).
Carney’s third field goal of the game gave the Giants a 16-13 lead with 11:32 remaining in the fourth quarter. It was their first advantage since it was 10-7 in the second quarter.
The Giants moved into position with a 10-play, 67-yard drive. The signature play of the series was a 15-yard catch-and-run by Smith that was reminiscent of the play just prior to Plaxico Burress’ game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII. On 3rd-and-14, Smith caught a short pass from Eli Manning, turned up the right sideline and somehow retained his balance until he was past the first down marker.
Ahmad Bradshaw gained four yards on the next play and the Giants advanced an additional 15 yards on Antwan Odom’s facemask penalty, which gave the home team a first down on the Cincinnati 17-yard line. Bradshaw quickly picked up five more yards on a pass from Manning. But Bradshaw then lost two yards and after a timeout, Manning’s six-yard pass to Smith left the Giants a yard short of the first down. Carney then kicked the Giants into the lead.
Carney had tied the game for the second time on his 46-yard field goal with 6:23 remaining in the second quarter. The Giants set up the score with a 30-yard drive that featured a 12-yard Manning pass to Domenik Hixon on 3rd-and-10 and Ward’s 13-yard run. But Manning’s next third-down pass to Hixon came up five yards short of a first down, and Carney came on to kick the field goal.
Graham’s second field goal, a 30-yarder with 32 seconds remaining in the second quarter, gave Cincinnati its third lead of the game at 13-10, an advantage that held up until halftime. The kick floated over the crossbar despite Robbins getting a hand on it at the line of scrimmage. It was the fifth consecutive possession that concluded with a score.
The Bengals traveled 66 yards in 12 plays before the kick. The biggest play was a 26-yard pass from Palmer to Houshmandzadeh on 3rd-and-7 that gave the Bengals a first down on the Giants’ 39-yard line. On the next play, Houshmandzadeh turned a short Palmer pass into a 15-yard gain. Moments later, Cincinnati faced another third down when Palmer found Chad Ocho Cinco for a six-yard gain and a first down on the 11.
The Bengals’ bid for the end zone failed when Mathias Kiwanuka sacked Palmer for an eight-yard loss, forcing them to settle for the field goal.
Carney’s 24-yard field goal with 3:55 remaining in the second quarter tied the game at 10. The Giants responded to a Bengals touchdown by driving 51 yards in six plays. The big gainers were Manning’s 26-yard pass to tight end Boss, which was followed immediately by Ward’s 22-yard run to the Bengals’ seven-yard line.
But the Giants gained one yard on the next two plays and on third down; Burress caught Manning’s pass, but couldn’t get his feet down in the back of the end zone. Coughlin then sent Carney onto the field.
Cincinnati took a 10-7 lead on Chris Perry’s 25-yard run with 7:20 left in the quarter. It was the longest run against the Giants since Buffalo’s Marshawn Lynch had a 28-yarder on Dec. 23, 2007. It was the longest touchdown run surrendered by the Giants since Atlanta’s Jerious Norwood had a 67-yard score on Oct. 15, 2007.
On 2nd-and-10, Perry took a handoff from Palmer, shot through a hole on the right side of the line and sprinted to the end zone untouched. The score capped an eight-play, 74-yard drive that featured Palmer passes to Chatman covering 11 and 25 yards.
Jacobs’ one-yard touchdown run—or, more accurately, a leap—gave the Giants a 7-3 lead with 10:36 left in the second quarter.
The Giants drove 80 yards in nine plays following a Bengals field goal. They were aided by two Cincinnati penalties, most notably a pass interference infraction on David Jones, who took down Burress as the Giants' receiver went for the ball.
That moved the ball to the Bengals’ 36-yard line. Manning promptly threw a 21-yard pass to Boss for the tight end’s first catch of the season. Moments later, Madison Hedgecock carried a short Manning pass to the one-yard line and on the next play, Jacobs took a handoff and dove over the line, just breaking the plane of the goal line with the ball.
Cincinnati scored first as Graham kicked a 22-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The Bengals advanced from their own 37 to the Giants’ five, where they had a first-and-goal. But two Palmer incompletions sandwiched Perry’s two-yard run and Cincinnati settled for the field goal.