Just getting there was tougher than the game itself. But, the New York Giants will take that every time.
A typical week on the road quickly became an historic week of sorts for both the Giants (9-4) and the National Football League.
During a road trip rarity, New York was forced to visit two different NFL cities during the same week, just to play a third.
But, in the end, the Giants’ long Midwestern journey was well worth the trip, as it ended with an easy 21-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings (5-8).
A game that was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis was moved to a Monday night affair at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, after the roof of Vikings’ Metrodome collapsed on Saturday, under the weight of more than 17 inches of snow.
So, off the Giants were, from New Jersey, to Kansas City, and ultimately to Detroit, just to administer a Big Blue beat down on shorthanded Minnesota.
As much as the venue relocation, the talk prior to the game was of Vikings future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre’s NFL record streak of playing in 297 consecutive regular season games ending on Monday night, due to a shoulder injury that placed Favre on the inactive list.
Thus, for the fifth time this season, the Giants had the good fortune of facing an opponent that was starting a game against New York without the availability of its first-string quarterback. New York is now 4-1 in those games after beating up on Favre’s backup, Tavaris Jackson (15-30, 118 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 4 sacks, 46.3 rating), who made just his 20th career NFL start.
Early on though, the Giants had their own struggles at the quarterback position.
Eli Manning entered the game with a lifetime record of 0-4 with a 47.8 quarterback rating against the Vikings, and during the beginning of Monday night’s contest, it appeared those trends would continue, as Manning started the game just 4 of 10, for 34 yards, two interceptions, and a 10.0 rating.
Manning, who in the context of Favre’s streak coming to an end, ironically made his 100th straight start, tried to force a couple of seam passes on the Giants’ first and third possessions of the opening quarter, and Minnesota picked him off each time.
The Vikings turned Manning’s first interception into a 3-0 lead on a 21-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell.
But, the Giants’ stout defense made sure that was all Minnesota would put on the scoreboard, as New York allowed only a single score (either a touchdown or a field goal) for the second straight week and for the fourth game this season.
Later in the quarter, Jackson banged knees with star running back Adrian Peterson, causing Peterson to miss significant time in the game. But, it wouldn’t have mattered, as Peterson returned and still played enough to help the Vikings if the he could have.
The Giants didn’t let him, holding Peterson, who had been averaging 93.6 yards per game this year, to a season-low 26 yards on 14 carries.
Already hampered by an absent Favre and an ineffective Peterson, the Vikings also played without their leading wide receiver, Percy Harvin, who sat out with reoccurring migraine issues.
Running out of offensive options, Minnesota was held to only 164 total yards and just nine first downs, while converting just 1 of 15 third-down attempts.
After the Longwell field goal on the Vikings’ second possession of the game (following a punt on their first possession), Minnesota punted nine times and threw one interception while totaling just 55 yards on their next ten possessions, before gaining 58 yards and running out of time on the last possession of the game, with third-stringer Joe Webb at quarterback after the Giants knocked a quarterback out of the game for the sixth time this season.
Minnesota had four possessions resulting in negative total yardage, and three others which netted zero, one, and three yards.
With the Giants’ defense more than handling their side of the ball, New York’s offense finally went to work in the second quarter, scoring 14 points to take a 14-3 halftime lead.
Seeing Manning reach an NFL high 19 interceptions on the season, the Giants went from throwing the ball to a running game that reached the 200-yard mark for the second consecutive week.
While the Giants’ team-record of five straight games without allowing a sack ended on Monday, New York’s offensive line once again did a great job otherwise, of protecting Manning (22 of 37, 187 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 1 sack) and opening up big holes for the Giants’ running game.
Like last week, running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw formed a well-balanced one-two punch. Jacobs (who gained 103 yards against Washington a week ago) ran for a season-high 116 yards on 14 carries, and Bradshaw (who gained 97 yards last week) rushed for 103 yards on 11 rushes.
Each back had a pair of rushing touchdowns last week, and each scored once on the ground against the Vikings.
It was exclusively Jacobs and Bradshaw on the Giants’ first scoring drive of 80 yards on 6 plays. Jacobs ran for two yards before breaking off a career-high 73-yard run up the left side, to the Minnesota 14-yard line. Bradshaw then added an eleven yard burst and a pair of one-yard rushes to set up a Jacobs one-yard touchdown run that put the Giants ahead to stay, 7-3, with 8:11 left in the first half.
Two Giants’ possessions later, Manning was able to connect with wide receiver Hakeem Nicks on the same type of seam pass on which he was off-target for his two earlier picks. Nicks turned the play into a 30-yard gain – the game’s longest passing play – to the Vikings’ 24 yard-line.
It was a welcome sight for Manning and the Giants’ offense, to see their leading receiver make that play and finish with game highs of seven catches and 96 yards after sitting out New York’s two previous games with a leg injury.
With the run setting up the pass, Manning was more at ease, and completed 6 of 9 passes on the 9-play, 71-yard drive.
He finished it with a beautiful pass, threading a ball perfectly to tight end Kevin Boss (4 catches, 23 yards, 1 TD) who made an equally nice diving catch in the end zone between safety Jamarca Sanford and linebacker E.J. Henderson for a 6-yard touchdown reception that extended the Giants’ lead to 14-3 with just three seconds left in the half.
After three New York punts to start the third quarter, Bradshaw answered Jacobs’ earlier run with a big 48-yard touchdown run, to give the Giants a 21-3 advantage with 2:46 left in the third quarter, and put the game away.
Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin was thankful that New York’s defense and running game overcame Manning’s interceptions until the Giants’ quarterback got things going later on in the game.
“It’s a good thing we did have the run,” Coughlin said, while adding of the defense, “They did an outstanding job particularly bailing us out with the two turnovers.”
Regarding the unconventional travel week for his team, Coughlin said, “I must have changed the itinerary five times… [but], I was proud of our guys, the way we handled the inconvenience… we handled it well.”
New York’s win (their third straight, snapping a four-game losing streak against Minnesota) coupled with the Philadelphia Eagles’ Sunday night victory in Dallas, sets up next week’s big divisional showdown between the Giants and Eagles (9-4) at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday, at 1 pm EST.
The winner would control its own destiny with just two weeks left in the regular season. An unlikely tie would favor the Eagles since they won the earlier matchup between the teams this season, in Philadelphia.