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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Eli Manning weaves his magic with ragtag band of receivers

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants throws a pass in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Jim McIsaac

There have been 27 of these fourth-quarter comebacks for Eli Manning in the regular season, and five more in the playoffs, so it's not really anything new. But set aside those two dramatic wins in the Super Bowl, and what you're left with at or near the top of that list is what happened Sunday night against the 49ers.

The odds were unlikely enough for Manning when the 49ers sliced through the Giants' defense to take a 27-23 lead with 1:45 to play. He already had given the Giants a three-point lead on the previous drive, so asking for another score after the Giants took over at their 18 was difficult enough.

Considering whom he was throwing to on the drive, it looked darn near impossible.

With Odell Beckham Jr. out with a hamstring injury, Rueben Randle about to go out with a hamstring injury and Victor Cruz missing altogether with a calf injury, Manning had few viable options. He was playing with a group of receivers who are among the most obscure in the game: former Cowboys special-teamer Dwayne Harris, sixth-round rookie Geramy Davis and some guy named Myles White, who only recently was elevated from the practice squad.

"Had some new faces out there," Manning said.

But the Giants had Manning, and that would be enough for a game that offered a spectacular finish featuring three lead changes in the final 41/2 minutes.

In the end, Manning's resourcefulness proved up to the task. He drove the Giants 82 yards in eight plays in only 1:24 to give his team a 30-27 win and sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

Only three weeks ago, Manning was explaining all that had gone wrong -- mostly of his own doing -- during an 0-2 start. But he delivered another inspiring performance against the 49ers, giving the Giants their third straight win and providing further evidence that at 34, he still is one of the best in the game at pulling out wins that seem so unlikely.

This was the essence of Eli. His team was in desperate need of a game-saving drive amid desperate circumstances -- in this case, a depleted offense that looked as if there was no chance of getting it done. But he somehow found a way to pull out the victory, thanks to some resourceful playmaking and a wondrous throw at the end to win it.

Manning got the Giants to the 49ers' 12 with 26 seconds to play, thanks to some terrific work over the middle by running back Shane Vereen on a handful of short throws that he turned into chunk plays.

Manning dropped back to pass and found tight end Larry Donnell at the back of the end zone. With two 49ers in coverage, he needed to throw a perfect pass: just over the head of linebacker Navorro Bowman and in front of safety Antoine Bethea.

As he has done so often in his career, Manning delivered in the clutch. He threw it where only Donnell could catch it, and the tight end made a superb play to catch the ball and remain in bounds.

"This one was special, just because we haven't been as good in the two-minute drives as we once were," said Manning, who finished 41-for-54 for 441 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He had career highs in completions, attempts and yards.

"We had great confidence, and you can win a lot of games that way. A couple games [this year], we had leads in the fourth quarter and lost them. It's good confidence for this offense and this team that we can win this way."

Coach Tom Coughlin called this one about as good as it gets for the comeback kid. "About as high as you can rank it," he said. "To be down and be able to do that in a matter of time, a lot of guys on the field who hadn't been there before. It says a lot."

Vereen, who had Tom Brady as his quarterback in New England and now plays with the only quarterback who has beaten Brady in the Super Bowl, called Manning "a better quarterback than a lot of people think. We love him, we trust him, we follow him. He's our leader. We shouldn't expect anything less."

Manning said he felt particularly good throughout the game. His interception in the end zone in the final seconds of the first half was a killer, but he made up for that. Aside from that pick, he was nearly perfect.

"Felt like we had good rhythm all day. The ball was coming out quick," he said. "We're seeing things well and guys are making some plays for us. We had the opportunity , and that's what makes it special for me. It's what they expect from me and what I expect from myself."

Another vintage comeback for Manning, and now something the Giants have experienced so little of in recent years: first place.


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