Two games into the season, one thing remains constant for the New York Giants.
Eli Manning goes, so go the Super Bowl champions. And that's why Giants coach Tom Coughlin wasn't happy when the Tampa Buccaneers knocked his quarterback down on the game's final play.
Shaking off a dismal three-interception first half, Manning finished with 510 yards passing and three touchdowns, capping the second greatest passing day by a Giants' quarterback with a 50-yard pass that set up Andre Brown's game-winning 2-yard run in a thrilling 41-34 victory over the Buccaneers on Sunday.
"The good thing about him is that he has a short memory," Giants defensive captain Justin Tuck said of Manning, who rallied the Giants (1-1) from a 14-point second-half deficit. "He had three interceptions but he went out there in the second half like he had a perfect quarterback rating and kept firing and made some huge plays for us to get us back in the game."
Manning completed 31 of 51 passes with his total yards passing tying for the eighth best in NFL history. The two-time Super Bowl MVP threw for 295 yards in the second half, including 243 in the fourth quarter.
"As a quarterback you like to throw it," said Manning, who came up 3 yards shy of Phil Simms' club record. "You like to be in that mix and spread them out and see what they're doing; have some runs, have some throws, and mix things up, and obviously it's fun when guys are getting open and guys are making plays and you're seeing things."
Manning threw touchdown passes of 23 yards to Hakeem Nicks, 80 to Victor Cruz and 33 to Martellus Bennett, with the last two coming in a monster 25-point fourth quarter, New York's biggest since 2006. He also hit Nicks on a 50-yard pass to set up Brown's winning run, which came one play after the running back went down at the 2 to milk the clock instead of taking a TD the Bucs were willing to surrender.
"Eli hung in. He made a couple of bad plays, but he didn't get discouraged," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We just kept talking about the character of this team and we finally made some plays and came back."
Coughlin yelled at Tampa Bay's rookie coach Greg Schiano after the game, miffed that Manning was knocked down on the final kneel-down because the Bucs went all out to try to force a fumble.
Coughlin said it was unprofessional and might have led to an injury, Manning called it a cheap shot. Schiano, the former Rutgers coach, said his team was just playing to the final whistle and it was not dirty.
Either way, it left a bad feeling after an exciting game.
The good news for the Giants was they avoided an 0-2 start, while the Bucs blew a chance to start their new era 2-0.
"Nobody wants to start 0-2, so it was a big win, especially after the first half playing poorly," said Manning, whose previous single-game best was 420 yards passing against Seattle in a loss last season.
In 1951, Los Angeles' Norm Van Brocklin set the NFL record single-game record of 554 yards passing against New York.
There were four touchdowns in the final seven minutes Sunday. Josh Freeman tied the game at 34-all with a 41-yard pass to Mike Williams, but Manning drove New York 80 yards in four plays to win it.
"They made plays. It's a game of inches," Schiano said. "They were able to make them. We were close and we didn't. Just got to do a better job all around, coaching, playing.
Manning's effort helped the Giants gain 604 yards, their second highest total in franchise history, 5 yards less than the record of 609 yards the Giants gained on Dec. 3, 1950, in a 51-7 victory over the New York Yanks.
Cruz, who attended his grandmother's funeral on Friday, finished with 11 catches for 179 yards, both career highs. Nicks, who barely practiced because of a sore foot, had 10 catches for 199 yards, with the yardage a personal best.
The Giants are the second team in NFL history to have a 500-yard passer and two 150-yard receivers in the same game. Van Brocklin's '51 Rams were the first.
"This team always says we're going to come back. It's just a confidence level you've got to have," Nicks said. "Eli is an elite quarterback, so there's a confidence that he can get it done."
Lawrence Tynes kicked four field goals for the Giants, who played a lot better after a season-opening 24-17 loss to Dallas 10 days ago. But they trailed for most of the game.
Freeman finished 15 of 28 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The first score covered 29 yards to Vincent Jackson, who had five catches for 128 yards. Doug Martin (20 for 66) ran 8 yards for a TD and Eric Wright returned the last of Manning's interceptions 60 yards for a touchdown just 8 seconds before halftime.
"It hurts, but I still believe in my teammates, and the coaching, and the staff," Buccaneers defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. "It's going to come together and it's going to be something great."