The Bucs yielded 277 yards in the opening half, but three interceptions held Manning and the Giants in check.
After intermission, there was no relief in sight.
Manning threw for 295 yards in the second half, eluding Tampa Bay blitzers long enough to find Cruz and Hakeem Nicks repeatedly running open in the Meadowlands.
When the Bucs defense trudged off the field after facing 76 snaps in a 3-hour, 23-minute slugfest, Tampa Bay had allowed 604 total yards – the most in the history of the franchise.
"We had some good takeaways, but those turnovers also covered up a lot of stuff we didn't do today,'' said DT Gerald McCoy, who spent a quiet afternoon trying to pressure Manning. "We've got to learn to keep our foot on the gas.''
Cruz and Nicks were targeted 32 times and combined for 21 catches and 378 yards, with one touchdown reception apiece.
Giants TE Martellus Bennett, brother of Bucs DE Michael Bennett, added five catches for 72 yards, including a 33-yard score that put the Giants briefly ahead 34-27 with 3:59 left.
"We knew it would be a dogfight and they made one more play than us,'' said Bucs CB Aqib Talib, who registered eight tackles and four passes defensed while frequently matched up in one-on-one coverage with Nicks. "It was our job to stop them and we didn't do it often enough.''
Wright makes dazzling detours
With the Giants driving late in the opening half, Bucs CB Eric Wright stepped in front of an Eli Manning pass and returned to his roots.
Wright fooled the veteran quarterback by faking a blitz on third down and intercepting a delivery intended for WR Victor Cruz in the left flat at the Tampa Bay 40-yard line.
"I was actually blitzing off the edge, but I figured Manning would read out of it and throw it hot,'' said Wright, who joined the Bucs as a free agent from Detroit in March. "Instead, I jumped the pass and picked it off. Then I had to get to the house.''
Before reaching the house, Wright took a few dazzling detours.
He cut back to the middle of the field and then broke back to the right sideline before completing a 60-yard return that put Tampa Bay ahead 24-13 with only eight seconds remaining in the second quarter.
"Wright was in the right coverage on that play,'' Bucs LB Lavonte David said. "And his run after the interception … that was awesome.''
Wright shrugged off his highlight-reel return.
"I've played running back my whole life,'' said Wright, who ran for 1,166 yards and 17 TDs as a senior at Archbishop Riordan High in San Francisco. "I've been there before.''
The afternoon started off in brutal fashion for Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
Wright, CB Brandon McDonald and MLB Mason Foster each picked off a Manning pass in the first half and all three miscues led to Bucs touchdowns.
But Manning, who has never thrown more than four interceptions in an NFL game, found his rhythm after intermission and finished with 510 yards, the second-most passing yards in Giants history.
"He's the best two-minute, fourth-quarter quarterback in this league and he showed it,'' McCoy said. "We knew what he was capable of doing, coming into this game. I'm going to think about this one for a 24-hour window. After that, this one's over.''
The Bucs found their deep passing game against the Giants, with Freeman connecting for five passes of 20 yards or more, including a pair of 41-yard passes – one each to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Freeman had two more completions of 17 yards or more, and five more of at least 11 yards.
With rookie Michael Smith inactive Sunday, the Bucs turned their kick return chores over to WR Arrelious Benn, who suffered a knee injury on the first day of training camp and didn't dress in last week's opener against Carolina.
Benn experienced a topsy-turvy day as he fumbled a kickoff three minutes into the game, then atoned with a 55-yard return to start the second half.
"I should have kept the ball up high and tight,'' said Benn, whose early fumble was recovered by teammate Quincy Black at the Bucs 13. "After that, I calmed down.''
Benn hadn't returned a kickoff since his college days at Illinois.
"I like it because it's a way to get the ball in my hands and make a play,'' Benn said. "We fought hard today. All we can do is regroup and get ready for Dallas.''
Bucs WR Vincent Jackson (5-128) posted the 15th 100-yard receiving game of his career.
Holding their ground
Facing some of the most relentless pass rushers in the NFL, Tampa Bay's revamped offensive line provided sturdy support in front of QB Josh Freeman.
In completing 15 of 28 passes for 243 yards, Freeman was sacked only twice – once by former University of South Florida standout DE Jason Pierre-Paul and once by blitzing LB Chase Blackburn, who came through the middle untouched.
"I thought our effort was great up front and the Giants know they got off lucky today,'' said LT Donald Penn. "I think Josh had ample time most of the game.''
With Demar Dotson filling in for injured Jeremy Trueblood (ankle) at right tackle, the Bucs rushed for 79 yards and converted only 2 of 10 third-down situations.
"I thought Dot played well for us,'' C Jeremy Zuttah said. "He's extremely athletic and he's putting it all together. There were some opportunities in the run game that we've got to improve on. We knew the resilience of the Giants coming on, but we showed some resilience ourselves, coming back to tie it near the end – just when things looked dark.''
Former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand, paralyzed by a spinal cord injury that occurred during at game at MetLife Stadium in 2010, took part in the pre-game ceremony as an honorary member of the Bucs. …Tampa Bay's 24 points before intermission marked the club's biggest first-half scoring output on the road since 1998, when the Bucs scored 28 points at Cincinnati. …The Giants suffered some early injuries as RT David Diehl (knee), WR Domenik Hixon (concussion) and RB Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) were sidelined. Hixon was hurt on a tackle by Foster that knocked off Hixon's his helmet. Foster was penalized for the hit.