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Giants 24, Patriots 20

Giants rally to beat Patriots

Manning leads game-winning drive in fourth-quarter

Jake Ballard caught the game-winning touchdown against the defense of Tracy White. (Getty Images) Jake Ballard caught the game-winning touchdown against the defense of Tracy White.
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / November 6, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH – The New England Patriots were thisclose to pulling off a come-from-behind win against the New York Giants, but a critical pass interference call against the defense on the Giants’ final possession helped New York to a 24-20 victory at Gillette Stadium.

The loss was the second straight for the Patriots – something that hasn’t happened since Weeks 10 and 11 of the 2009 season, when New England lost back-to-back road games in New Orleans and Miami, and was also the first regular-season home loss for Tom Brady in almost exactly five years.

It was also the third straight game the Patriots have been held to 20 points or fewer.

"We played some pretty good defenses that present some challenges, so they've got good players, and good schemes, it's just a matter of us executing better.We'll have to see the tape. It's one thing here, it's one thing there, that keeps us from getting in the end zone," Brady said.

The Patriots scored to go ahead 20-17 on a Brady to Rob Gronkowski touchdown with 1 minute, 36 seconds left.

But Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who has been enjoying a career season, guided his team on a game-winning 80-yard touchdown drive.

The play that broke the Patriots’ back came on first down from the New England 21, when Manning looked to UMass product Victor Cruz at the goal line and Sergio Brown was flagged for pass interference.

The Giants got a fresh set of downs at the one-yard line, and after a failed pass to tight end Jake Ballard and a failed run by Brandon Jacobs, Manning again went back to Ballard.

Covered by special teamer Tracy White, who had played just a handful of snaps at linebacker this season and was forced into service because of an injury to Gary Guyton, Ballard caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Manning.

With just 15 seconds to manufacture a touchdown, the Patriots weren’t able to get into the end zone and the Giants celebrated.

"We had our chances, just came up a little bit short," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We've just got to keep working here, and see if we can play a little better. Giants are a good football team, they did a good job."

Brady hit 28 of 49 passes for 342 yards, but also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.

"We battled for 60 minutes, they played us tough, it was just a battle out there. We made some plays, and they'd make plays, it just kept going back and forth," Brady said.

Wes Welker had nine catches for 136 yards and Gronkowski had eight receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Manning hit 20 of 39 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Jacobs carried 18 times for 72 yards, and Cruz had six receptions for 91 yards.

Ballard had four catches for 67 yards, including two on the game-winning drive, including the touchdown.

The teams both came into the game ranked in the top 10 in points per game, but the first 30 minutes featured exactly zero points – and 10 punts.

Given that the Giants have been allowing more than 130 rushing yards per game, the Patriots began the game by trying to attack that weakness, and were successful right off the bat. On their first offensive play of the game, Brady handed the ball off to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who found a hole created by guard Logan Mankins and picked up 18 yards.

But New England couldn’t keep the drive going, and went three-and-out on its second possession as well, with running back Danny Woodhead taken down in the backfield by safety Deon Grant on third-and-1.

It was not the first big play Grant would make for the New York defense on the evening.

The Giants had very early success by taking advantage of the Pats’ defensive weakness, gaining 14 yards on a Manning-to-Mario Manningham pass on the first snap of the game. But they too could not sustain their initial success.

Their second drive was a bit more successful, with the Giants getting into New England territory before being forced to punt. New York’s third drive was a three-and-out.

After two punts, New England gave the ball back to the Giants a different way on its third possession: sparked by a 26-yard catch by Welker, the Pats had second down from the New York 29 when Brady looked to Deion Branch over the middle.

The pass was tipped by Michael Boley and Boston College product Mathias Kiwanuka was in perfect position to snatch the ball out of the air for the interception, although the Giants didn't score following the turnover.

Neither side made much progress until the Pats’ final possession of the first half. Big plays by Woodhead (twice), Welker and Gronkowski all helped them get well inside the red zone.

They got as close as the 8-yard line, but a third-down end zone pass for Aaron Hernandez was too far in front of the tight end and he couldn’t make the catch despite diving for the ball.

Stephen Gostkowski lined up for the 27-yard field goal and pushed it wide left.

The Patriots got the ball to start the third quarter and again got off to a good start when Belichick challenged a call of an incomplete pass to Hernandez, who celebrated his 22d birthday on Sunday. Referee Pete Morelli overturned the call, giving Hernandez a 15-yard gain.

But shortly after, Grant struck again: this time he intercepted Brady on a pass that appeared to be intended for Gronkowski.

The Giants turned the pick into the first points of the game, a 22-yard field goal.

New York forced another turnover on the very next drive. Boley came in from the left side and whacked Brady’s arm just as he was releasing the ball; Jacquian Williams scooped up the loose ball.

Starting at the Pats’ 10-yard line, the Giants needed just one play to get the first touchdown of the day and a 10-0 lead. Jacobs, who started in place of injured back Ahmad Bradshaw (cracked bone in foot), was given a sizable hole and ran nearly untouched into the end zone.

Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, arrested earlier in the week for indecent assault and battery, was active for the game and got a lot of action since there were so many punts in the game. He did see a few snaps with the offense. Edelman was inactive against the Steelers a week ago, a healthy scratch for the first time in his career.

The Patriots cut the lead to 10-3 on a 32-yard field goal by Gostkowski in the third quarter, then tied it 10-10 on the second play of the fourth quarter. Brady hit Hernandez for a five-yard touchdown pass to cap a drive that began on the Patriots' 20 when Kyle Arrington intercepted Manning in the end zone.

Gostkowski gave the Patriots their first lead, 13-10, on a 45-yard field goal with 7:08 left.

Manning regained the lead for the Giants with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Manningham with 3:03 remaining that made it 17-13. The strike capped an eight-play, 85-yard drive.

Brady pulled the Patriots ahead with 1:36 left, hitting Rob Gronkowski on 4th-and-8 from the 14 to make it 20-17.

"I'm proud of our resiliency, you know, on the sideline, there's no quit in this team, we're going to keep fighting. They just made some pretty good plays at the end there to win it," Brady said.

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