In the first half, Tampa Bay's defense frustrated Eli Manning and picked him off three times. Those three turnovers led to 21 points, including a 60-yard pick-six by cornerback Eric Wright in the second quarter. Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin each scored their first touchdowns as Buccaneers and the team enjoyed a 24-13 halftime lead on the road.
But Manning took over in the second half and led a crazy fourth quarter comeback by torching the Bucs' secondary. Manning finished with a career-high 510 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receivers Victor Cruz caught 11 balls for 179 yards and Hakeem Nicks caught 10 passes for 199 yards. The Giants finished with 605 offensive yards, which is the second-most in team history.
Josh Freeman threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed two second half interceptions that proved costly, and the Bucs lost a heartbreaker to the defending Super Bowl Champs.
The Giants got the ball first and wasted no time going to the air. On just the second play from scrimmage, Eli Manning hit Nicks down the sideline for a 40-yard line. However, the Bucs' defense would tighten up as the Giants approached the red zone and cornerback Aqib Talib, who was beaten by Nicks on that long completion, knocked down a pass intended for Nicks in the end zone. After that, the Bucs stopped the Giants on first down and forced them to take three points.
Josh Freeman seemed to emulate Manning on his first possession as the Bucs tried to match New York's opening score. A few plays into the drive, Freeman went play-action pass and found wide receiver Vincent Jackson past double coverage for a 41-yard pick up. But like the Giants, the Bucs faltered once they got down field and tied the game after a 45-yard Connor Barth field goal.
Manning continued to eat up Tampa Bay's defense on the Giants' next drive. Manning hit receiver Victor Cruz for a couple of big gains in the middle of the field and was able to get New York down to the Bucs' 1-yard line. However, Will Beatty and Martellus Bennett each dropped touchdown passes and the Giants settled for a 24-yard field goal from Lawrence Tynes.
In the second quarter, Mason Foster intercepted Tampa Bay's third pass of the season when Manning mistakenly tried to forced the ball over Foster's head in the middle of the field. After the turnover, Freeman went to work on New York's injury-plagued secondary and gave the Bucs a 10-6 lead when he hit Jackson deep along the sideline for a 29-yard touchdown.
Later in the quarter, Tampa Bay's secondary struck again. On a third-and-6 play, Manning was looking for Cruz, but threw the ball too high and was picked off by nickel back Brandon McDonald, who set the Bucs offense up with the ball at the Giants' 13. Once inside the red zone, it took only two plays for running back Doug Martin to score his first NFL touchdown. He took a handoff, spun at the line of scrimmage, and raced left to the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown. Martin's score gave the Bucs a 17-6 with 6:19 left in the second quarter.
But Manning is too good to be held down for long and answered back when he got the ball back on offense. Manning went 5-of-5 for 45 yards and capped off the scoring drive with a 23-yard strike to Nicks. On the play, Nicks faked a move to the outside and beat Talib on the inside for an easy touchdown reception.
The Bucs were unable to run the first half clock out and go into halftime with a lead. They ended up going three-and-out and giving the ball back to New York with less than one minute in. With three timeouts and plenty of time, Manning continued to find Nicks and Cruz, but the drive ended with Tampa Bay adding to its lead. Cornerback Eric Wright picked off Manning near the line of scrimmage and dodged a few tacklers to take the interception 60 yards to the house. Wright's pick-six gave the Bucs a 24-13 halftime lead.
Tampa Bay got the ball to start the second half and began with great field position thanks to a 55-yard kickoff return by Arrelious Benn. They didn't do much with the ball on offense, but still got points thanks to a 52-yard field goal by Connor Barth.
Tampa Bay's defense continued to play well but penalties in the passing game allowed the Giants to move down field and eat into the Bucs' lead. McDonald was called for defensive holding on Cruz. Later on the drive, Talib was flagged for interference while trying to cover Nicks. New York got down to Tampa Bay's 18, but could only get three after Tynes hit a 35-yard field goal.
Momentum swung back in the Giants' direction after Freeman threw his first interception of the 2012 season on the next drive. On second down, Freeman threw off his back foot into the middle of the field and was picked off by Corey Webster.
But the Bucs' defense once again held strong and bailed out the offense with stout play in the red zone. Manning got the Giants inside the Bucs' 5, but they could not punch it into the end zone once again. Backup linebacker Adam Hayward saved a touchdown on first down when he tipped a ball that would have found a wide open Cruz on the back of the end zone. Tynes' 24-yard field goal made it a one score game, but the Bucs were still up 27-19 early in the fourth quarter.
The Giants would tie the game just a few minutes later. On third-and-2, Tampa Bay blitzed and safety Ronde Barber was left in one-on-one coverage with Cruz. The younger Cruz blew right past Barber and caught a ball in stride for an 80-yard touchdown. Needing two points to tie, the Giants went for it and converted it with a draw play up the middle. After being up by 14 points earlier, the Bucs now found themselves in a 27-27 tie game late in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs gave the Giants the ball right back after a three-and-out by Freeman and company. It didn't take long for New York to take the lead once they got the ball back. After a 20-yard catch down the seam by Nicks, Manning hit Bennett, who just jumped over the smaller McDonald, for a 33-yard touchdown to move the Giants ahead 34-27 with 3:59 left in the game.
Needing a touchdown to tie, Freeman turned to tight end Dallas Clark, who caught three straight passes in the middle of the field to move the chains. Then Freeman threw up a bomb in the back of the end zone and connected with Mike Williams to tie the game at 34. Williams showed great concentration while jumping over the corner and caught the ball with both feet inbounds for a 41-yard touchdown.
But Manning, who threw for a career-high 510 yards, once again went to work on the Bucs' banged-up secondary. Nicks was able to beat Talib again in single coverage and caught a 50-yarder down the sidelines to put New York in scoring position. Two plays later, Andre Brown scored from two yards out on a draw play to put the Giants up 41-34.
The game wasn't over yet, however, and the Bucs still had a chance to tie the game late. Freeman hit Jackson for a gain of 19 yards and then found a streaking Williams down the sideline for 29 yards. But Williams lost the ball after he got hit and the call of a complete pass was overturned after the refs reviewed the play. On the next play, Freeman overthrew Clark in the middle of the field and was intercepted by Michael Boley, who sealed New York's comeback victory.
Next up for the 1-1 Bucs is a trip to Dallas to take on the Cowboys.
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