NEW ORLEANS - Half an hour after the greatest pitchers' duel in NFL history, the numbers still were spinning dizzily in Eli Manning's head. He grasped for words to explain how it felt to go toe to toe with Drew Brees, winging the ball all over the Superdome on Sunday until it added up to an NFL record for total touchdown passes in one game.
"It was a wild one,'' Manning said in his typical understated fashion. "I don't know if I played in one quite like that with that many touchdowns back and forth. Drew was playing great.
"There were 12 touchdown passes in the game, I guess 13. Or maybe 14? How many? . . . Ah, I can't keep up. There was a lot of offense, just a wild one, and I wish we could have come out on top of it.''
There were 13 touchdown passes to be exact, including an NFL record-tying seven by Brees and a Giants record-tying six by Manning. Twice Manning brought the Giants back from 14-point deficits to tie. But ultimately, the game spun out of the quarterback's control when a punt return plus a face-mask penalty on punter Brad Wing set up Kai Forbath's 50-yard field goal as time expired to give the Saints a 52-49 victory.
It spoiled one of the greatest regular-season games of Manning's life in the city where he grew up and now is 0-3 as a pro. And in many ways, it was a game that raised as many questions about the Giants' defense and their future as a realistic playoff contender as it answered about the offense and Manning's grip on it after a couple of rough outings against Philadelphia and Dallas.
Those defensive questions will linger, and the Giants undoubtedly will hold their breath and hope Jason Pierre-Paul can fight through the uncertainty of his comeback from the fireworks accident that disfigured his right hand and provide a lift for a pass rush that barely laid a finger on Brees.
But this was a day to appreciate Manning and how he rose to the occasion again and again to match the prolific Brees. Coach Tom Coughlin trusted Manning on two fourth-down touchdown throws, including the first of three touchdown passes to fellow Louisiana native Odell Beckham for a 7-0 lead and an improbable scrambling throw on which he rolled right, planted and threw back over the middle for Dwayne Harris on a 9-yard TD that cut the Saints' lead to 42-35.
When it was suggested to Manning that the game was like a tennis match in which he had to hold serve against Brees, he agreed, saying: "Yeah, I knew their offense is always high-powered, especially at home. I knew it might be a day where we had to score some points. I didn't know how many it would take."
When the Giants went down by 28-14 in the second quarter, Manning led an 80-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard TD to Shane Vereen just before halftime. Then the Giants took the second-half kickoff and Manning hit a 50-yard TD pass to Beckham.
Brees pushed the Saints' lead to 42-28, but Manning hit back with the scrambling 9-yard score to Harris before a nicely threaded 20-yarder to Harris tie it again at 42.
"He's fully capable of doing what he did every single time,'' Beckham said. "It's just a matter of us all being on the same page and executing. Execution, execution.''
The execution was nearly flawless right up until the Giants' final possession, which began with the score tied at 49 and 36 seconds left. On third-and-5, Manning missed on a throw to Harris, forcing the Giants to punt.
"We just ran out of time,'' Manning said. "We had to convert on that third-and-5. Just don't give them an opportunity. Sure enough, they got a good punt return and the penalty and then the field goal. It's a tough one to bite down on right now.''
Sad to say for the Giants, the Shootout at the Superdome ended with Manning out of ammo even though he had played Brees to a draw.