INDIANAPOLIS - The Giants' offense turned the ball over twice and was flagged for a holding penalty. On one drive. And it may have been their best drive of the night.
That's how deep you have to probe to find a glimmer of optimism from the starters coming off Saturday night's 27-26 victory over the Colts in the Giants' third preseason game.
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Corey Washington caught the game-winning touchdown pass for the third straight week as the Giants' second- and third-stringers erased a 26-0 deficit.
Eli Manning continued to look rookieish and uncomfortable with the new offense, completing only one of his seven passes for 6 yards during four series of play. In the last two games, Manning is 2-for-9 for 6 yards."It just wasn't good enough," Manning said of the offense. "We didn't do a very good job on third down. I felt like we had a couple of opportunities to hit some big plays, we just didn't complete them . . . We weren't efficient enough running the ball or throwing the ball tonight. So overall, not very good by the starting group."
The last time Manning walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium, he had just been named Super Bowl MVP for the second time and was hearing chatter about his Hall of Fame worthiness. He left Saturday night with a far different vibe, though he insisted he is not alarmed.
"I'm not concerned right now, but we know we've got to get better," he said. "We've got to play better. We've got to start executing better and start making some plays."
At least he finally completed a pass to Victor Cruz. Well, sort of. Manning hit Cruz down the right sideline for what would have been a 50-yard reception, but Greg Toler stripped the ball from Cruz from behind and recovered the fumble. That would-be turnover, like the one the Giants nearly committed a play earlier when Manning was picked off by Darius Bulter on a pass intended for Cruz, was negated by another of the incessant penalties against secondaries this preseason. The flags wiped away both miscues, a holding penalty against Will Beatty was declined on a third-and-9 incompletion deep down the left sideline for Jerrel Jernigan, and the Giants were forced to punt. Cruz still has no official receptions this preseason.
The Giants did advance a net total of 26 yards on that drive, though. That accounted for the majority of the 46 yards the starting offense gained on 23 plays. There were two three-and-outs, and the only other drive in which the Giants made much noise ended with an inside handoff to rookie Andre Williams for a gain of 2 on third-and-7.
The Giants had one turnover that counted in the first half. After they gave up a touchdown midway through the first quarter on a 5-yard pass from Andrew Luck to Griff Whalen, Quintin Demps coughed up the ensuing kickoff and gave the ball back to the Colts. They kicked a field goal off the takeaway, then added another early in the second quarter to go ahead 13-0.
The Colts took advantage of three defensive penalties against the Giants, all of them resulting in first downs, to drive 71 yards in 10 plays and go ahead 20-0 on Matt Hasselbeck's fade to Da'Rick Rogers in the corner of the end zone. Hasselbeck, 38, scrambled for 9 yards earlier in the drive to convert a third-and-4 after the Colts had faced a first-and-20 from their own 36.
"Overall, I think we still have a lot to work on," safety Antrel Rolle said of the defense, which had not allowed a touchdown with the starters on the field going into the game.
"I don't think we played such a good game [Saturday night]. I think we definitely have a lot to work on.''
The Colts added a field goal in the third and fourth quarters to make it 26-0. Curtis Painter hit tight end Kellen Davis on a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter and avoid the shutout. Justin Anderson forced a fumble by running back Phillip Tanner at the goal line and Spencer Adkins recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown to make it 26-14 with 10 minutes left in the game.
Michael Cox lunged in for a 2-yard touchdown with 3:59 left to cap an 11-play, 92-yard drive with Ryan Nassib at quarterback and make it 26-21.