EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After changing their roster at the start of the season and their offensive tempo a week ago, the Seattle Seahawks saved their biggest change for the New York Giants.
Pete Carroll and his team of relative unknowns found a way to make plays when it counted — and win.
Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst threw a go-ahead 27-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin with 2:37 to play and Brandon Browner returned an interception 94 yards to thwart a desperate, late challenge by the Giants in a 36-25 victory Sunday.
"This is a team that is growing together and I think we have grown a lot this season," Baldwin said after the Seahawks (2-3) posted a crucial win heading into a bye week. "I think we grew a lot today."
Carroll made wholesale changes to the Seahawks' roster this season and has at least a dozen new starters. A no-huddle offense was added in an encouraging second-half rally against Atlanta last weekend and it produced 424 yards against the Giants (3-2). This week the big plays came in the nick of time, from some of the least likely players.
Whitehurst was playing because Tarvaris Jackson was sidelined in the third quarter because of a pectoral injury.
An undrafted free agent from Stanford, Baldwin had eight catches — pushing his season total to a team-high 20 — for 136 yards.
Browner is a first-year NFL player who spent four years in the Canadian Football League before joining the Seahawks.
"We had a lot of fun," said Carroll, who sprinted along the sideline for a few yards on Browner's return and then whooped it up. "It was a hard-fought, well deserved feeling that we had. We know it's a terrific accomplishment to beat these guys at home when they're hot. Most of it was heart-felt because we've been hanging tough. We haven't met our expectations, but we haven't backed off. We continue to hold to the standards up there no matter what they're saying on the outside or what they think about us."
The Giants hurt themselves late with a couple of procedure penalties on first and goal plays inside the Seattle 10.
The first one on tight end Jake Ballard stalled a drive and forced New York to settle for a go-ahead 26-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes with 4:49 to play for a 25-22 lead.
Whitehurst then led the Seahawks on an 80-yard touchdown drive capped with his pass to Baldwin on a play in which the Giants seemed to stop after defensive end Osi Umenyiora jumped offside.
"I did notice that," Whitehurst said of the offside. "Leon (Washington) picked him up and they kind of stopped dead and I got the ball out of my hand quickly. Doug was wide open."
The Giants, who had staged fourth-quarter rallies to win their last two games, mounted another late drive and had first-and-goal at the Seahawks 5 after consecutive completions of 41 and 19 yards to Victor Cruz. A procedure penalty on tackle Will Beatty pushed the ball back to the 10.
Eli Manning (24 of 39 for 420 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions) looked to Cruz one more time. His pass tipped off Cruz's hands, bounced off Kam Chancellor and was picked off in the air at the 6-yard line by Browner, who went the distance to ice the game.
"It is embarrassing as good as we have been playing the last couple weeks to come out here and lay an egg, embarrassing is the only way I can think of," Giants defensive tackle Dave Tollefson said.
Cruz had eight catches for 161 yards, including a 68-yard TD after Chancellor misplayed what should have been an interception and tipped the ball into the air. Cruz stuck out his right arm for a one-handed catch and sped the final 25 yards to score, making it 22-19 for New York.
But Cruz couldn't hold on to the biggest throw.
"I thought I gripped it, but as soon as I went to grip it in, I got hit and it bobbled up in the air," Cruz said. "I knew it was all downhill from there because there were two guys there and one of them was going to pick it off."
Whitehurst finished 11 of 19 for 149 yards in relief of Jackson, who was 15 of 22 for 166 yards and a touchdown before going out with a chest injury after being tackled on a third-quarter run.
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown, and Steven Hauschka had field goals of 51 and 43 yards.
Manning's touchdown passes covered 13 yards to Ballard, 19 to Hakeem Nicks just before halftime and the long one to Cruz, which seemingly had the Giants on the road to their fourth straight win.
Seattle dominated the third quarter with defense. It took a 16-14 lead on a safety by Anthony Hargrove on a play that started at the Giants 5.
The lead grew to 19-14 on a 51-yard field goal by Hauschka, and then the fun started in the fourth quarter.
Notes: Two Giants, guard Chris Snee and long snapper Zak DeOssie, sustained concussions. ... Baldwin had 12 receptions coming into the game for 194 yards. ... The game was a relative sackfest: New York had six, led by Jason Pierre-Paul with 2½, and Seattle had three, two by Chris Clemons.