CHICAGO - Eli Manning's second pass landed in Brian Urlacher's hands. There was a fumble that led to a field goal, too, and just when it seemed his day couldn't get much worse, he threw an interception in the end zone.
Then, everything turned around.
Manning redeemed himself just in time, and the New York Giants dealt the Chicago Bears' playoff hopes another staggering blow.
Manning led two late touchdown drives and Reuben Droughns scored on a 2-yard run with 1 minute, 33 seconds remaining to lift the Giants to a 21-16 victory over the Bears yesterday.
Manning was awful for most of the game but delivered in the latter stages after throwing four interceptions the previous week in a drubbing by Minnesota.
"It's easy to forget bad plays," Manning said. "And to be a quarterback, to be a football player, you have to be able to do that. You have to be able to forget the week before. You have to be able to forget the play before and just move on and work out the next play."
The embattled quarterback threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Amani Toomer, which was initially ruled incomplete, with 6:54 left to cap a 75-yard drive and cut the Giants' deficit to 16-14.
"I knew I caught it," Toomer said. "And I knew [the replay] was going to look like I caught it, so it wasn't a problem. I don't know if it hit my arms or hands, but I was underneath it. I didn't even think it was that close."
After the Bears (5-7) punted, the Giants launched a 77-yard drive that ended with Droughns running around the right end with 1:33 left. Manning hit David Tyree with a 24-yard pass and threw a 15-yarder to Plaxico Burress that put the ball on the 2.
The Bears got the ball with 1:28 remaining and marched from their 41 to the Giants 28, before Rex Grossman threw three incompletions - the last one broken up by James Butler.
It was a brutal loss for the defending NFC champions, who looked like they were about to put together back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
"We'll continue to play until they tell us we're out of it," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Winning out would've pretty much guaranteed us getting in . . . You just have to keep playing and see what happens."
Manning was 16-for-27 with 195 yards with two interceptions and a lost fumble, the turnovers dousing several scoring threats by the Giants (8-4) or putting Chicago in good position.
Derrick Ward ran for 154 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries for New York, but injured his left ankle. He left the stadium on crutches and is scheduled for an MRI today. *