EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Aaron Ross started the game on the sideline, benched for a half by the New York Giants for violating team rules.
Allowed on the field in the second half, the rookie cornerback came up with two of the game's most important plays.
Ross returned the second of his two interceptions 43 yards for a touchdown with just over three minutes remaining to seal a 35-24 victory over the Jets yesterday in the latest battle of New York.
"I think the reason I was drafted here was to make big plays, and I have to hold up my end of the bargain," the first-round pick out of Texas said.
Neither Ross nor coach Tom Coughlin would reveal the nature of the indiscretion, but the cornerback was in the game when it mattered most.
"It was just a mistake on my behalf, and something I have to learn from," Ross said.
With the Jets driving for a potential go-ahead score, Chad Pennington threw a pass toward Jerricho Cotchery. Ross stepped in front of it and took off down the left sideline and into the end zone.
The touchdown gave the Giants (3-2) an 11-point lead with 3:15 left and helped them beat the Jets (1-4) for the seventh time in 11 meetings.
"There's no magic formula," a downtrodden Pennington said. "We just fell apart right there at the end."
A week after getting 12 sacks against Philadelphia, the Giants only had one - by Osi Umenyiora with less than three minutes left - but intercepted Pennington three times.
Pennington finished 21 of 36 for 229 yards and a touchdown to Brad Smith.
Eli Manning recovered from a miserable opening half to finish 13 of 25 for 186 yards with touchdown passes to Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey and one interception. Brandon Jacobs had 100 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in his first game since spraining a knee in the season opener.
"I take full responsibility for the first half," Coughlin said. "We made a lot of mistakes, but we came back and we still felt like we could win the game. Our second half was outstanding."
After Ross's first pick, the Giants drove 98 yards and took their first lead, 28-24, on Burress's 53-yard touchdown reception with 7:52 left.
The Giants got within 24-21 with an efficient drive that was capped by a 13-yard touchdown catch by Shockey with 33 seconds left in the third quarter. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was called offside on third and 4 to keep the drive alive.
The Jets took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter when Kerry Rhodes ripped the football out of Jacobs's left arm and returned the fumble 11 yards for a touchdown.
The Giants tied it on Derrick Ward's 8-yard run up the middle 4:06 into the second quarter, but the Jets went ahead, 14-7, just before the half on Smith's first NFL touchdown, a 16-yard catch in the right corner of the end zone.
The Giants came out inspired for the second half, making it 17-14 on a 19-yard rumble by Jacobs.
Washington then erased any momentum the Giants might have gotten by taking the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, his second this season.