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Grounded again: Giants pound out win over Vikes

After a string of bad luck that saw the Giants get stranded in Kansas City and stuck in Minneapolis, they finally caught a break last night in Detroit.

Giants 21, Vikings 3

There were many oddities coming into last night’s tilt but none of that hindered the New York Giants in their convincing 21-3 win over the de facto home team, the Minnesota Vikings.

First, what was supposed to be a Vikings’ home game, was played at Ford Field in Detroit, due to a Midwestern snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow over the weekend in Minneapolis. The storm forced the Giants to land their charter in Kansas City on Friday night as a precaution. The original revised plan was to depart for Minnesota early Saturday and play the 1 p.m. Sunday game as scheduled. But the game was moved to Monday night because the roof at Minnesota’s Mall of America Field had collapsed, forcing the game to Detroit, almost 30 hours until kickoff.

Not even that extra time off could salvage Brett Favre’s consecutive games started streak, however, as the NFL’s record-setting iron-man had his 297-game streak snapped due to an injured shoulder. It was the first time since 1992 that Favre missed a game, allowing Tarvaris Jackson to make his first start since 2008.

The Vikings [5-8] were as anemic on offense as Favre’s shoulder, as they mustered only 303 total yards – most of it in garbage time. Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson was held to only 26 rushing yards on 14 carries, including a mere 16 yards on 10 carries in the first half. Jackson didn’t fare much better, as he went 15-of-30 for 118 yards and an interception. His counterpart, Eli Manning, also struggled as he went 21-of-36 for 175 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Manning’s struggles against the Vikings is legendary, as he’s thrown 11 interceptions and only three touchdowns in five career games against Minnesota.

Fortunately for Manning, however, he had ample help in the running game as Brandon Jacobs rumbled for a game-high 116 rushing yards and a touchdown. Ahmad Bradshaw was just as successful as he posted 103 rushing yards and a touchdown. The Giants [9-4] once again got supreme blocking from its makeshift offensive line, despite allowing its first sack in six games. Left tackle David Diehl returned to the starting lineup, making center Shaun O’Hara the lone regular starter missing. Manning also got some help in the returns of Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith. The passing game wasn’t in synch but there was a marked difference in route-running and performance. Nicks had seven catches for 96 yards, while Smith only had one catch for 12 yards.

The Giants didn’t need an aerial attack this time, as its version of ‘ground-and-pound’ was the real difference in the outcome, as they bottled up Peterson, harassed Jackson, and ambushed both sides of the Vikings’ lines. Big Blue’s defense accounted for four sacks, an interception, and several defended passes. Their lone interception – a league-leading 31st takeaway -- came from Keith Bulluck when he picked off his first pass as a Giant early in the third quarter. The play was a turning point in momentum, as it came two plays after Greg Camarillo returned a punt 52 yards deep into Giants’ territory.

New York showed resolve and grit in winning a game that no one would’ve blamed them for losing, considering all the obstacles and drama prior to kickoff. Head coach Tom Coughlin was certainly proud.

“I think they handled it very well,” Coughlin said. “I think that the guys realized right away that it [relocation] was out of our hands and really fully out of our control. We certainly came in prepared to play wherever.”

The relocation and rescheduling of the game was believed to have been just the third time in the last 25 years that weather or natural disasters forced the NFL to hastily move a regular season game to a neutral site. That does not count New Orleans’ 2005 season, when the Saints played home games in Baton Rouge and San Antonio, because the Superdome was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake that caused a 10-day disruption in the World Series also forced the San Francisco 49ers to move their Oct 22 home game against New England to Stanford Stadium. On Oct. 27, 2003, the Miami Dolphins defeated the Chargers, 26-10, in a game played in Tempe, Arizona because of wildfires in the San Diego area.

Now that the drama is behind the Giants, they need to quickly refocus on the Philadelphia Eagles [9-4] in what could very well decide the winner of the NFC East.

What went right ...

1 No Favre — After a string of bad luck that saw the Giants get stranded in Kansas City and stuck in Minneapolis, they finally caught a break last night in Detroit. Brett Favre wasn’t under center for the first time since 1992 and the Vikings’ offense was out of sync all game because of it. Tarvaris Jackson made his first start since 2008 and it’s not a stretch to say the team could have generated more offense on the one good shoulder of Favre. Jackson finished with just 118 yards passing, was sacked four times and got knocked out of the game for a brief stretch in the third quarter.

2 Running on a full tank — The returns of Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith didn’t really aid Eli Manning, who needed the running game to bail him out. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw combined for 219 rushing yards, including a career-best 73-yard rumble down the sidelines for Jacobs. His jaunt was rewarded with a 1-yard plunge three plays later to put the Giants up 7-3 midway through the second quarter. Bradshaw added 103 yards, including a 48–yard rushing touchdown to essentially ice the game late in the third quarter. It was the second straight game that both men found the end zone.

3 Stone wall — Minnesota’s “Williams Wall” came in with the more heralded status, but Pat and Kevin had nothing on the performances of Big Blue’s own defensive tackle wall, Barry Cofield and Rocky Bernard. The underrated duo held All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson to a mere 26 rushing yards, including 16 yards on 10 carries in the first half, and continuously collapsed the pocket on an overwhelmed Jackson. Bernard and Cofield each registered a sack and spearheaded a unit that hit Jackson nine times and knocked him down 11. Justin Tuck warned the Giants may come out rusty after the unexpected layoff, but the unit held the Vikings to just 2-of-16 on third downs.

What went wrong:

1. Eli Manning continued to add to Big Blue’s league-leading turnover totals as he threw two interceptions. Manning, who went 21-of-36 for 175 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, continued his legendary struggles against the Vikings, as he’s now thrown 11 interceptions and only three touchdowns in five career games against Minnesota. It was Manning’s 23rd total turnover this season and he’s reason number one that the Giants lead the entire league with 32 giveaways His inconsistencies will be the ruin of Big Blue’s playoff hopes if he continues his dismissive ways of handling the football.

2. The return coverage woes reared its head again for the Giants, as they allowed a 50-yard punt return from the normally ordinary Greg Camarillo and what should’ve been a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Lorenzo Booker. Alas, any momentum from the Camarillo return was erased by a Vikings’ turnover two plays later and the Booker return was marred by a block in the back penalty. The gaffes didn’t hinder New York this time but it’ll certainly come back to haunt Big Blue against actual future contenders.

3. Despite the return of starting wideouts Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith, the passing game never got on track. That mostly had to do with timing and conditioning, as neither receiver played in a month. Nicks had a serviceable seven catches for 96 yards, while Smith was non-existent with one catch for 12 yards. They’ll need to pick up the production – specifically next week against the Philadelphia Eagles – if Big Blue wants to get back to its dominant and balanced ways.

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