It took just about all day, but the battle of the elite quarterbacks finally materialized in New England.
And, just as he did the last time he faced the Patriots, Eli Manning was the one celebrating when all was said and done. For the fifth time this season, Manning led his team to a win in the fourth quarter.
He hit Jake Ballard with a one-yard pass with 15 seconds left on the clock to get a 24-20 win that was made all the sweeter by the fact that the Giants were playing without three of their offensive starters. Manning was brilliant on the final drive, but you probably knew that without even being told.
How could you expect anything less from a guy who is making the improbable seem routine every week this season? The three big plays to set up the touchdown were a perfect pass from Manning to Ballard, a Michael Vick-style scramble by Manning and a big pass interference call that set the Giants up on the one.
That score capped a frenzied fourth quarter on a day that started out with less scoring than a mixer between priests and nuns. Neither team scored during the first half and both Manning and Tom Brady looked like their bodies were being inhabited by people who had never played the game before.
Things finally loosened up when the Giants (6-2) turned Brady's second and third interceptions into 10 points in the third quarter. Then they started making mistakes of their own to let the Patriots (5-3) get back in the game.
Aaron Ross dropped a punt and the Patriots were able to get three points that seemed to finally wake up their slumbering offense. Then, after a Julian Edelman fumble handed the Giants the ball deep in New England territory, Manning made a pair of mistakes that gave the Patriots more life.
He couldn't get a snap off in time to avoid a delay of game penalty and then, on third down, he threw an interception off his back foot that looked like a vintage 2010 mistake.
Manning has been so good this season about taking the sack or throwing the ball away that it was shocking to see him make such a massive blunder. The offensive line did a poor job blocking, creating the pressure that Manning faced while throwing the pick, but this one was totally on the quarterback.
Mario Manningham looked like he was going to be the hero when he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Manning with 3:03 left to play in the game, but he almost wound up being a goat thanks to getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he received celebrating the score. That meant the Giants had to kick off from their own 20, handing the Patriots great field position to use for their final score.
Brady, finally free of the hex that the Giants defense had him under, moved the team smoothly down the field and hit Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown on fourth down. There were still 96 seconds to play, though, and that's far too much time to leave Manning when he's as locked in as he's been this season.
There was a feeling of inevitability to watching Manning roll down the field to a win that many people thought wasn't going to come to the wounded Giants this week. Now, though, just about anything seems possible for this team and the quarterback who isn't out of chances until there's nothing left on the clock.