Eli Manning wins shootout with rookie Robert Griffin III

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III greets Giants

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III greets Giants quarterback Eli Manning after their game Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J. (Oct. 21, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Neil Best

Newsday columnist Neil Best Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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Stuff happens in the NFL, even more so than in real life, where collisions involving 300-pound men are rare.

So we should be careful before getting too worked up about Sunday being the first in a long series of NFC East shootouts between aging (relatively speaking) gunslinger Eli Manning and young challenger Robert Griffin III.

We should be, but we won't. Not after an entertaining afternoon at MetLife Stadium that again proved there is more than one way for a quarterback to flummox an NFL defense.

Manning, 31, was Manning, overcoming what for him was an off day to lead another comeback, throwing a 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz with 1:13 remaining for a 27-23 victory over the Redskins.

The most impressive thing about it was that at this stage of his career, absolutely no one was surprised by the late dramatics.

Said defensive end Osi Umenyiora: "Eli's done this a million times before.''

A million?

"Not a million,'' Umenyiora said, "but something similar.''

Griffin, 22, was Griffin, repeatedly frustrating the Giants with his legs and right arm, rushing nine times for 89 yards and completing 20 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns.

It was a performance that surely left every Giants executive, coach, player and fan thinking the same thing: We might have to deal with this guy for the next decade?

Or as defensive end Justin Tuck put it: "I'm pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East.''

Griffin's finest moment came on a fourth-and-10 from the Redskins' 23 with the two-minute warning approaching and the Redskins trailing 20-16.

The Giants' supremely athletic Jason Pierre-Paul had a bead on him. Then he didn't.

Griffin faked his way around Pierre-Paul and found tight end Logan Paulsen for 19 yards. Three plays later, he completed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss.

"I had him,'' JPP said of RG3. "Then he stopped. He hit the brakes on me and I went that way. That would have been the end of the game right there. I was doing my best.''

Pierre-Paul's whiff gave Manning a chance to redeem himself after a day lowlighted by a hideous interception in the middle of the fourth quarter on which he didn't see linebacker Rob Jackson drop into his passing lane.

The interception came one play after Griffin lost a fumble, adding to the swing in momentum. "That one,'' coach Tom Coughlin said, "was a lump in my throat.''

Later, Manning would accept blame, naturally. He also would pretty much shrug off the mistake, naturally.

In the end, as Coughlin said, "When his back is up against the wall is when he does his best work.''

The Giants have given fans their money's worth during their three-game home winning streak, which has included late-game shootouts against the Bucs and Redskins and a come-from-behind victory over the Browns.

Remarkably, they have won at least five of their first seven games in all nine years under Coughlin and still have never lost for a third time before November.

One more thing: Manning is 26-5 in October. That's why he is Eli Manning, still the most feared gun in the East. For now. RG3 will get his next shot Dec. 3 in Landover, Md.

"Let me tell you something, man: That guy is flat-out unbelievable,'' Umenyiora said of Griffin. "I'm not even going to lie. That's the best quarterback we've played this year, for sure.

"It's just unfortunate that he's a rookie, because he's going to be around here forever doing stuff like that. That's just crazy.''