Following an awful start, the New York Giants tried to hang Ford tough, but ultimately looked too confused and ill prepared on each side of the ball while dropping their fourth straight season opener on Monday Night Football.
This time, the Detroit Lions (1-0) were the beneficiaries, in a rather easy 35-14 win at Ford Field.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford (21-31, 334 yards, 2 TD) threw touchdown passes to megastar wide receiver Calvin Johnson (7 catches, 164 yards) on each of the Lions’ first two drives to stake Detroit to an early 14-0 lead.
Although the Giants (0-1) cut that deficit in half, they allowed the next 13 points, to trail by 20.
New York temporarily things a bit more respectable when running back Rashad Jennings (16 carries for 46 yards, 1 TD) scored his first touchdown as a Giant, but the Lions responded with a game-clinching, touchdown drive that chewed up more than seven minutes.
The win was a fitting way for Detroit to start the season, since New York had won its past six games at Ford Field (five over the Lions and one in a relocated game against the Minnesota Vikings), the most recent time, in Week 16 of last year, to end Detroit’s playoff hopes.
Johnson’s receiving outgained the passing of quarterback Eli Manning (18-33, 163 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT), who behind a revamped offensive line, with a new backfield and tight ends, under a new offensive coordinator, was out of rhythm for much of the night while being unable to avoid the turnover bug that plagued him last year, when he threw a career-high and NFL-season high 27 interceptions.
Manning’s first pick came on the Giants’ initial drive of the second half, and led to a Lions field goal that put Detroit up, 17-7. That one was courtesy of some tremendous focus by linebacker DeAndre Levy (game-high 10 tackles, 9 solo, 1 INT, 1 PD), who managed to keep his right arm under a bouncing ball before it hit the ground.
Two New York possessions later, Manning was flushed out of the pocket to his left, deep in the Giants’ end of the field. Before he could force a ball in to wide receiver Victor Cruz (2 catches, 24 yards), safety Glover Quin (5 tackles, 4 solo, 2 PD) got his mitts on the pass to set up a Stafford 5-yard touchdown run, which gave the Lions a commanding 27-7 lead with 3:51 left in the third quarter.
Whereas New York went three-and-out and 28 yards before punting on its first two drives, Detroit went 80 yards on just four plays, to score on a 67-yard throw from Stafford to a wide open Johnson on 3rd-and-9. Defensive end Damontre Moore wasn’t able to get Stafford, and downfield, newly acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (4 tackles, all solo) collided with fellow cornerback Prince Amukamara (8 tackles, 4 solo, 2 PD), leaving Johnson with what must of felt like half of Michigan in which to roam free before he walked in for the game’s first score.
One Lions drive later, Stafford (who completed his first six passes for 133 yards) took his own newly designed offense 69 yards on nine plays before burning the Giants on a 3rd-and-long score again. On 3rd-and-13, Stafford moved well to his left before leading Johnson on a terrific pinpoint pass past a couple of Giant defenders in the end zone, which Johnson reeled in on an equally impressive diving catch for a 16-yard touchdown, with 5:12 left in the opening frame.
Aided by two of eight first-half penalties called on the Lions (one for running into punter Steve Weatherford, and another for pass interference), the Giants switched to a no-huddle offense and moved 79 yards on 13 plays for their first score. After a couple of incompletions and a run that went nowhere from the Detroit 1-yard line, Manning threw left for tight end Larry Donnell’s first touchdown of his career, to bring the Giants to within 14-7, just 2:06 into the second quarter.
Able to stabilize the game at that point, New York felt much better at halftime after earlier indications were that of a Lions blowout.
Eventually, that’s how the game ended anyway, as the Giants’ offense was outgained through three quarters by Johnson, despite the often unstoppable receiver (5 first-half catches for 131 yards) going without a catch in the third quarter.
Last season, New York finished a strong 7-3, but could never overcome a horrid 0-6 start. Having that in the back of their minds will place extra importance on the Giants’ home opener next Sunday, against Arizona.