GLENDALE, Ariz. - Eli Manning needed less than a minute, and some good fortune on a play that could have ruined it all, to turn a sad afternoon into a sweet victory.
Manning, playing at the scene of his 2008 Super Bowl triumph, threw two touchdown passes in a 58-second span late in the game and the New York Giants rallied to stun the Arizona Cardinals 31-27 on Sunday.
The scoring passes of 2 yards to Jake Ballard with 3:37 to go and 29 yards to Hakeem Nicks with 2:39 left came after the Cardinals (1-3) seemingly had taken control at 27-17 on Beanie Wells' third rushing touchdown of the game with 5:16 to go.
The go-ahead touchdown came after Manning threw 29 yards to Victor Cruz, who stumbled to the ground, got up and left the ball on the ground on a play the Cardinals insisted was a fumble. The referee said the call could not be challenged because Cruz "gave himself up" on the play and therefore was down.
The rule book says a play is over when a runner "declares himself down by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and making no effort to advance."
Cruz added more confusion by saying he thought he'd been touched by a defender.
Week 4 in the NFL
"I saw the guy coming and I wanted to get down," he said. "I thought I was tagged down and I got up and was going to the next play. I thought I was touched so the ref called it down. I felt like I was touched, I thought somebody touched me. I guess in the heat of the moment you probably don't feel it or you think someone touched you, but I definitely thought I was touched."
Whatever happened, Manning was relieved.
"We got a break on that one I think," he said. "I thought it was going to get ruled a fumble and I saw it pretty clear. I don't know what the call was or why."
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said all he knew was that the referee told him it could not be challenged.
"What's the understanding of that rule? I don't know," Whisenhunt said. "I'd like to think it shouldn't have come to that play. That's kind of the way I have to look at it."
The Cardinals were still fuming when Manning ran the next play, throwing to Nicks for the go-ahead score.
"It hurts because we thought it was a fumble and it should be our ball, and then we probably win the game," Arizona defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. "Then you get caught up in the emotion and they line up and throw a deep ball. They took advantage of our emotions."
Manning completed 7 of 8 for 126 yards on the decisive drives as the Giants (3-1) won their third in a row. He finished 27 of 40 for 371 yards. Nicks caught 10 passes for 162 yards.
Arizona rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson was asked what Manning did differently on those last two possessions.
"Honestly he didn't do anything impressive," Peterson said. "We've just got to make plays, to be honest with you."
Going to the no-huddle got things in gear for the Giants in the nick of time.
"They ran the ball on us, they threw the ball on us," New York Tom Coughlin said. "We had many occasions where we weren't able to make any first downs. For us to come back and play like we did and have an opportunity - we still gave the ball away on the 5 - and to overcome it, it is a real testimony for the guys to keep on playing."
Wells, who missed the previous game with a hamstring injury, rushed for a career-best 138 yards.
The Cardinals' last gasp ended when Kevin Kolb's pass to Larry Fitzgerald from the New York 30 fell incomplete. Arizona has lost three in a row, all in the same excruciating fashion.
"I'm just disappointed, very disappointed," Kolb said. "It's just hard to swallow losing one like that."
PFT: Defensive end finally finds a new team in San Diego — and for a honey of a deal that would be worth a max of $13.35 million.
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