New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning probably envisioned his best passing day much differently.
While Manning passed for a career-best 420 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday, he also threw three interceptions, including one that turned a near victory into sudden defeat.
For the second straight week, the Giants (3-2) were poised to rally for a close win late in the fourth quarter against a lesser NFC West opponent.
That’s when a back-and-forth affair on Sunday afternoon went from sea-saw to the Seahawks (2-3), as undrafted, first-year cornerback Brandon Browner became an instant downer for New York with a 94-yard interception return that finished off the Seattle Seahawks’ 36-25 upset victory at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.
It was a table-turning ending from a week ago for New York, which scored the final 14 points in the last 3:37 to beat Seattle’s divisional opponent Arizona, by four points. This week, it was the Giants allowing the Seahawks to score the last 14 points in the final 2:37.
Browner’s defensive score was one of a season-high five turnovers committed by the sloppy Giants, who entered the game as a heavy favorite, while riding a three-game win streak.
Prior to the game-ending pick thrown by Manning (24-39, 420 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT, 3 sacks), New York let Seattle (a notoriously bad team away from home over the past several years) hang around, allowing two of the NFL’s poorer quarterbacks to help the Seahawks to their first road win in three tries this year.
Seattle got on the scoreboard first, setting a tone that New York’s day wouldn’t be as easy as oddsmakers had predicted before Giants’ fans seats even had time to get warm.
Quarterback Tavaris Jackson (15-22, 166 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 4 sacks before leaving with a chest injury in the third quarter) capped an eight-play, 80-yard, game-opening drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ben Obomanu (6 catches, 51 yards, 1 TD) to give the Seahawks a 7-0 lead just 2:32 into the game.
New York responded on its own initial drive, also going 80 yards for a score, on seven plays, to tie the game, 7-7, on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Manning to undrafted, rookie tight end Jake Ballard (3 catches, 72 yards, 1 TD), who scored for the second straight week.
Later in the quarter, the Giants got a big break right after handing a gift to the Seahawks. After being sacked on New York’s second possession, Manning fumbled, letting Seattle take over at the Giants’ 11-yard line. But, running back Marshawn Lynch (12 carries, game-high 98 yards, 1 TD, 1 lost fumble) lost the ball to New York linebacker Michael Boley (after a hit by defensive end Osi Umenyiora) just two plays later.
One play after a Giants’ three-and-out, Lynch ran 47 yards to the New York 1-yard line, and punched it in on the next play, to regain the lead for Seattle, 14-7, with three minutes left in the period.
Although they again couldn’t stop one of the least-feared offenses in the league, the Giants’ defense again bailed itself out, as a 13-play, 85-yard Seattle march early in the second quarter resulted in another Seahawks’ fumble that was recovered at the New York 2-yard line by defensive tackle Rocky Bernard.
Late in the half, the Giants capitalized on a third Seattle turnover, as cornerback Aaron Ross (4 tackles, 1 INT) intercepted Jackson at the New York 41-yard line.
Just four plays later, Manning tied the game 14-14, on a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (4 catches, 65 yards, 1 TD) .
A largely uneventful third quarter produced three punts for each team, but running back D.J. Ware (4 carries, 3 yards) was tackled in the end zone for a five-yard loss and a safety that gave Seattle a 16-14 lead with 7:02 left in the quarter, before a wild fourth quarter produced more points than in the first three quarters combined.
Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (11-19, 149 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 2 sacks) helped lead Seattle 33 yards on nine plays for a 51-yard field goal by kicker Steven Hauschka that increased the Seahawks’ lead to 19-14 with 14:28 left in the game.
The Giants finally took their first lead only four plays later however, as second-year wide Victor Cruz (8 catches, game-high and career-high 161 yards, 1 TD, 1 lost fumble) caught a tipped pass with only his right hand and raced 25 yards to score on a 68-yard completion. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (17 carries, 58 of New York’s 69 rushing yards) ran it in for a two-point conversion that extended the Giants’ lead to 22-19 with 12:37 remaining.
Cruz fumbled though, on New York’s next possession, giving Seattle a short field. Whitehurst threw three straight incompletions, but Hauschka kicked a 43-yard field goal to tie the game for the third and final time, 22-22, with 10:15 left.
New York immediately responded again, going 77 yards in ten plays, including a 32-yard strike from Manning to Ballard. Kicker Lawrence Tynes capped the drive with a 26-yard field goal that gave the Giants a short-lived 25-22 lead with 4:49 to go.
But again, New York allowed itself to be carved up by Whitehurst, who completed passes of 22 and 20 yards before taking advantage of a confused Giants’ defense on what proved to be the game-winning score.
After Umenyiora jumped offside, New York’s defense seemed to stop, letting Whitehurst pass to rookie wide receiver Doug Baldwin (team highs of 8 catches and 136 yards, 1 TD) who was left open to score on a 27-yard completion that gave the Seahawks the lead for good, 29-25, with 2:37 left.
Manning then moved the Giants quickly, with the help of consecutive connections of 41 and 19 yards to Cruz, to get to the Seattle 10-yard line.
New York though, became a little too predictable, going back to Cruz yet again, in double coverage at the Seahawks’ 5-yard line. Cruz looked like he would make a tough catch in traffic, but he was hit by strong safety Kam Chancellor.
The ball deflected off of Chancellor and into the waiting arms of Browner who raced nearly the full length of the field in the other direction to close the scoring and send Seattle back across the country with a rare win on the east coast.
Manning was intercepted on the Giants’ final drive to give New York one more official turnover and put an end to a miserable day that stopped New York’s momentum while keeping the Giants a half-game behind the idle Washington Redskins (3-1) for first place in the NFC East.
The loss could again raise some past questions over the status of Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin, who is in his eighth year with New York.
While the Giants won a Super Bowl under Coughlin four seasons ago, and although they are playing without several key players who are out for the season, there have been too many other underachieving seasons. In particular, Coughlin’s Giants have suffered too many losses like they did on Sunday, during which they have played either too sloppy, too disinterested, or both, against teams with inferior talent, especially at home.
Last year, a similar home loss against Dallas (which came in to the Meadowlands at 1-7 with a third-string quarterback) cost the Giants a division title and a playoff spot when they could have been the NFC’s two seed.
If the problem is playing down to their competition, perhaps the Giants will be motivated enough next week, when the overachieving Buffalo Bills (4-1) pay a visit to MetLife Stadium on Sunday at 1 pm ET.