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Eli Manning, Giants beat Dolphins in likely farewell

Eli Manning’s likely farewell included a goodbye to the Giants’ extended nightmare.

Making his first start at MetLife Stadium since Sept. 15, in the unfamiliar role of injury replacement, Manning steered the Giants to a 36-20 victory over the Dolphins. It snapped a nine-game losing streak, tied for the longest in the 95-year-old franchise’s history.

The Giants (3-11) last won Sept. 29, the final day of the MLB regular season.

Manning heard his name chanted at MetLife Stadium before he took his first snap and again by a crowd exhaling throughout the fourth quarter. He uncharacteristically looked around to soak in an early ovation, as receiver Sterling Shepard flapped his arms encouraging the noise to get louder.

Manning’s performance was a mixed bag. He evened the score at 7-7 with a 51-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate — who made yet another circus catch and showboated his way into the end zone — and put the Giants ahead for good with a 5-yard scoring toss to Darius Slayton early in the second quarter.

Slayton — who caught two TDs last week and is the first fifth-round-drafted receiver with eight touchdowns as a rookie since Hofstra’s Marques Colston in 2006 — and Tate are the 57th and 58th different players to catch a touchdown pass from Manning.

Saquon Barkley broke out of his prolonged slumber with a monster second half, and, for one day, the focus wasn’t on ownership’s silence or the uncertain futures of general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur. Manning’s parents were on hand in a suite as he went 20-for-28 passing, with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Eli Manning Giants
Fans hold signs of support for Eli ManningN.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Even the much-maligned defense got right against the Dolphins (3-11). Accused of tanking during a trade-filled 0-7 start, the Dolphins had won three of six for first-year coach Brian Flores and former Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Playing for the first time without top cornerback Janoris Jenkins, the Giants started three first-year cornerbacks (Sam Beal, DeAndre Baker and Corey Ballentine). Jenkins was released Friday, two days after using an offensive slur on Twitter and offering half-hearted forced apology.

The secondary played one of its best games of the season, including during the two series benched season-opening starter Antonio Hamilton replaced Baker (knee). Leonard Williams forced a fumble recovered by Sean Chandler, and Beal’s ankle tackle resulted in a safety to open up a 16-13 lead.

Beal’s play brought life to a crowd still more energized than most around the NFL by good defense. Da’Mari Scott’s 34-yard kick return set up good field position, Manning fired back-to-back completions totaling 39 yards to Shepard and Barkley punched in a 1-yard touchdown.

It was just Barkley’s third rushing touchdown and first since Week 7 —and he added another on the first play of the fourth quarter. He topped 100 rushing yards (112) for the 10th time in his two-year career and the first time since Week 2, before his high ankle sprain.

The Giants will turn back to rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, who is 2-8 as a starter, for the final two games if his high ankle sprain is healed. After falling under .500 for the first time since 2007 with last week’s loss to the Eagles, Manning’s career regular-season record improved to 117-117.

Everyone, from the fans to the public address announcer emphasizing Manning’s name, seems in on the secret Jones certainly will be back at quarterback Week 17 at home against the Eagles when the focus re-shifts from the past to the future.