EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — One-and-six never felt so good. Or looked so ugly.
In a Monday Nighter that accurately reflected the combined record of 1-10 for the two teams coming into the game, the Giants finally found a team in the Vikings that could out-mistake them and were able to land in the win column for the first time this season with a 23-7 victory.
It was certainly not enough to quell all of the concerns that built up during the team’s futile first six games, but for the first time in 295 days, the Giants were able to at least exhale with relief after a game.
Marcus Sherels, who scored the Vikings’ touchdown on an 86-yard punt return in the first quarter, played an integral role in the game’s defining sequence midway through the third quarter. On third-and-10, Manning tried to hit Cruz but Sherels jumped the route and had a chance to make an interception. He dropped the ball and the Giants were grateful for the opportunity to punt.
Sherels fielded the kick, but slipped on the return without being touched by a Giants defender and when he hit the turf, the ball popped out. Zak DeOssie was able to recover it at the 3 and two plays later, the Giants’ newest running back, Peyton Hillis, ran it in from the 1 for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
A Josh Brown 23-yard field goal with 12:13 left in the fourth quarter essentially iced the game at 20-7. Jacquian Williams recovered a fumbled kickoff return by defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd that was forced out by Damontre Moore which led to another field goal, this one a 36-yarder that made it 23-7 with 11:03 left.
The Giants led at halftime for the first time this season, but it wasn’t quite indicative of their problems being solved. A misfire on a long pass for Hakeem Nicks on the opening drive forced them to settle for three points despite controlling the ball for 17 snaps over more than nine minutes of play. Nicks would drop several more passes throughout the first half.
Before he was the ugliest goat in a game that stunk like a goat farm, Sherels had the most exciting play of the night. For the third time this season, a Giants punt was returned for a touchdown as Moore, the gunner, ran past Sherels, who caught the ball at the 14 while pinned against the sideline and returned it up the field past a diving DeOssie. The only player close to making a play on Sherels in the final 50 yards of his run was Weatherford, who forced the returner to change directions twice but had no pursuing help. The 86-yarder gave the Vikings (1-5) a 7-3 lead with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Giants took back the lead when Manning hit Rueben Randle on a 24-yard TD pass with 9:33 left in the second quarter. The pass was short, but Randle was able to jump and pluck it off the helmet of cornerback Chris Cook in the end zone.
The only fully functioning part of the Giants was the defense, which held Adrian Peterson to 9 yards on eight carries and allowed just four first downs in the first half. He finished with 28 yards on 13 carries.
The defense continued to play well in the third quarter, helping to erase a second special teams mistake. Randle fumbled a punt return at the Giants’ 31, giving the Vikings the ball as close to the Giants’ goal line as they had been all game. But on the second snap after the fumble, Shaun Rogers pressured Josh Freeman — who was 20-for-53 for 190 yards in his Vikings debut — into throwing high and Antrel Rolle was able to intercept it.
It was the first Giants takeaway since Week 4 and just the eighth of the season, but the offense was unable to do anything and punted after three plays.
Notes & quotes: Mariano Rivera was the honorary captain for the Giants and entered the field for the opening coin toss to “Enter Sandman” and a huge ovation from the fans and the Giants players who applauded from the sideline … Brandon Jacobs (hamstring) was inactive, leaving Hillis and Michael Cox as the only active running backs … Minnesota’s Jared Allen made the sack of the game, and perhaps the season, when he was able to wrangle Manning to the ground while reaching around left tackle Will Beatty’s waist … Center David Baas returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Week 2 but left after the first series with a knee injury.