EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) As Eli Manning looked around the huddle, there were a few folks the Giants quarterback wouldn’t expect to see during a critical drive.
No matter. He guided them to the winning touchdown anyway.
Larry Donnell’s spectacular catch over two 49ers with 21 seconds remaining lifted New York past San Francisco 30-27 on Sunday night, capping Manning’s sensational clutch performance. Manning had a career-best 41 completions in 54 attempts and his perfect throw to Donnell finished off an 82-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown. The two-time Super Bowl winner passed for 441 yards and became the winningest quarterback in team history with 102.
He pulled off the decisive drive with several backups on the field; starting receivers Odell Beckham Jr., and Rueben Randle had hamstring issues, and third-down back Shane Vereen was in the backfield with Manning.
“That last drive we had new faces out there, especially at receiver,” Manning said. “I had a scramble and then a big screen to Shane.
“There were a couple of big plays where guys stepped up, and Odell coming back in (at the end of the series) and Larry’s touchdown. … This win is special.”
Donnell was between Antoine Bethea and NaVorro Bowman, two of the 49ers’ best defenders, when he leaped to snag the pass in the back of the end zone before falling on his back, the winning catch secured.
“Eli put it up there and I went up and got it,” Donnell said. “Once I got it, I held on tight.”
New York (3-2) has won three straight and leads the NFC East. San Francisco (1-4) has lost four in a row and let this one slip away after an impressive comeback.
Carlos Hyde’s 2-yard run with 1:45 remaining gave the 49ers the lead. But on a night of huge plays and lengthy drives, Manning and Donnell had the topper.
Never in doubt, tackle Justin Pugh said.
“I looked around the huddle and everybody had that mentality that we were going to score. Guys stepped up with some huge plays,” he said. “We moved on them the entire game. We felt confident we could get it down on them. When they look you back in the eye, you just know. It was huge.”
Other notables from the wild game.
BIG PLAYS: There were 20 plays of at least 15 yards in the game, and San Francisco had three on its late scoring drive: Colin Kaepernick’s passes of 25 yards to Torrey Smith, 26 to Anquan Boldin, and Carlos Hyde’s 19-yard run.
“It’s good offensively to get into a rhythm like that,” Kaepernick said. “It’s something we can build off moving forward. But we have to win games. That’s why we play.”
Beckham had a 49-yard reception while Vereen and Dwayne Harris each had 24-yarders for New York. Boldin added a 37-yard gain, Bruce Ellington had a 30-yard catch and run, and Hyde added a 22-yard run.
GIANT HAMSTRINGS: With Beckham and Randle sidelined on the final drive, the Giants wide outs were rookie Geremy Davis, Myles White, who was signed off the practice squad earlier this week, and Dwayne Harris, the return specialist who has stepped in as the third receiver the last two weeks.
“I noticed we had some young guys in there but I didn’t know why,” Giants guard Geoff Schwartz said. “We were down and guys stepped up.”
Beckham does not think his hamstring injury is serious.
There is still no timetable for Victor Cruz to return from a calf injury.
KAEPERNICK ON TARGET: Kaepernick has been under a microscope the last few weeks after throwing for 67 yards in a blowout loss to Arizona and 160 in a loss to Green Bay last week. Some have suggested that coach Jim Tomsula switch to Blaine Gabbart. Kaepernick cooled off those calls on Sunday, hitting 23 of 35 for 262 yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought he felt comfortable,” said Boldin, who had eight catches for 107 yards. “He came to us and told us he was going to give us a chance, especially if we had one on one. There were times where we had a play called and he saw the defense was going to change things up and gave us opportunities to make a play for him.”
DANIEL FELLS: Coughlin said tight end Daniel Fells, who is battling MRSA, has had two good nights in the hospital. He visited Fells on Saturday and said his condition is showing progress. Fells had a good night of sleep before the visit. Coughlin hopes he will be released from the hospital soon.
DEFENSIVE WOES: The 49ers gave up 525 yards in total offense and did not sack Manning once in 54 passing attempts. The Giants were not much better giving up 380 yards while collecting two sacks. Once again New York was outscored in the second half 21-17 overall, and 14-10 in the final quarter.
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