By Larry Fine
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - The New York Giants took advantage of some stumbling and bumbling by the St Louis Rams to post a 28-16 victory in the National Football League on Monday.
Eli Manning made Greg Salas pay for a fumbled punt return in the first quarter, the Giants quarterback throwing a three-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks after Rams cornerback Bradley Fletcher had been called for pass interference on Nicks two plays earlier.
The Giants stretched their lead to 14-6 in the second quarter following a blunder in the backfield by the Rams.
Quarterback Sam Bradford fired a quick pass through the hands of Carnell 'Cadillac' Williams that was deemed a fumbled lateral since Williams was a step behind Bradford.
Giants linebacker Michael Boley scooped up the ball and ran down the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown.
"When they gave us a little opening, we seemed to jump in there and get points and score touchdowns and not settle for field goals," Manning told reporters.
The Rams, meanwhile, twice drove inside the Giants' 10-yard line but failed to convert the opportunities to touchdowns as the New York defense stiffened and held them to field goals.
"Just too many mistakes in the red zone," Bradford said. "When you get down there you have to come away with touchdowns."
Manning got off to a sluggish start and threw an interception on their opening drive while missing on nine of his first 11 passes.
However, he started clicking with his offense toward the end of the first half and led the Giants to a more conventional touchdown at the end of the first half.
The former Super Bowl MVP connected on six-for-six on an eight-play, 86-yard drive that culminated in a juggling, 22-yard catch by Domenik Hixon in the end zone.
The highlight reel grab made it 21-6 with 21 seconds left before half-time, and virtually made the game safe for the Giants.
"Hixon made a great catch in the end zone, a big momentum changer right there," said Manning.
Manning completed 18-of-29 passes for 200 yards, including two touchdowns and one interception.
Bradford was 22-for-46 passing for 331 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown to Danario Alexander in the third quarter.
Defensive captain Justin Tuck, who missed New York's opening loss to the Redskins due to a neck injury, said the Giants had room to improve but were relieved to win.
"The win tonight was important," said Tuck, who had a lively season debut with 1 sacks, four solo tackles and three hits on the quarterback.
"There's no such thing as an ugly win. With all the parity in this league they are hard to come by. Obviously there's some things we need to correct and get better at, but we're still proud how we played tonight."
Both squads were hampered by injuries, with the Rams missing their leading rusher Steven Jackson and wide receiver Danny Amendola among others.
The Giants were missing pass-rushing defensive end Osi Umenyiora and tight end Travis Beckum, while wide receivers Hixon (calf) and Mario Manningham (concussion) were sent to the sidelines during the game.
"We just have to keep playing, keep fighting," Manning said about his depleted receiving corps. "We got off to a slow start. I had some throws that I missed.
"We definitely are not playing as well as we need to, but at key moments when we needed some touchdowns, I thought we made some big plays."
The Giants (1-1) visit Philadelphia to face division rivals the Eagles (1-1) next week, while the Rams (0-2) host the Baltimore Ravens (1-1). (Editing by Peter Rutherford)