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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For the first time this season, the New York Giants are going to be able to watch the videotapes of a game and have something to smile about.
Winning has its benefits, even after six straight losses to open a season.
Eli Manning threw a go-ahead touchdown to Rueben Randle in a rare mistake-free performance and the Giants shut down Adrian Peterson and forced three crucial second-half turnovers in posting a 23-7 victory over struggling Minnesota Vikings (1-5) on Monday night.
The win ended the Giants' worst start since a franchise-record 0-9 beginning in 1976, and it gave Tom Coughlin's team a chance to breathe a sigh of relief.
"We needed to get one on the board," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "I told (general manager) Jerry Reese that I think we have a shovel to start digging our way out of this hole. Hopefully, tonight is something we can build off. It's still a long way to climb out of this hole. But this was something that we could get the ball rolling."
While the game wasn't perfect, the Giants did enough to win and avoided most of the mistakes that led to their disastrous start.
"This is what it is about," said safety Antrel Rolle, who made a big third-quarter interception after Minnesota recovered a fumble by Randle on a punt return at the Giants 31. "It's about getting back to having fun. Obviously, things have been a little tense around here with the 0-6 start but we never gave up on one another. We kept pushing each other and rooting each other on."
The defense was the key for New York. After giving up a league-high 209 points, it pitched a shutout. Minnesota was limited to 206 total yards, Peterson got 28 rushing on 13 carries and new quarterback Josh Freeman was under constant pressure, finishing 20 of 53 for 190 yards.
The Vikings' touchdown came on an 86-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels late in the first quarter, giving Minnesota a 7-3 lead.
"The defense was outstanding," Manning said. "They were dominating the line of scrimmage and dominating the game. It does help the offense build a bit of a lead. We can be patient and not give their offense a short field by forcing anything."
Manning, who has thrown a league-high 15 interceptions, didn't have one. He finished 23 of 39 for 200 yards, throwing a go-ahead 24-yard touchdown to Randle in the second quarter.
New running back Peyton Hillis added a 1-yard TD run in the third quarter after Zak DeOssie recovered a fumble on a punt return by Sherels at the Vikings 3.
"It's a struggle. We've been in a funk," said Peterson, who attended his 2-year-old son's funeral five days ago. "There were plays we just didn't execute. We can't just focus on the offensive line. There are a lot of things as a unit we can do to get better."
Josh Brown kicked field goals of 35, 23 and 36 yards for the Giants, who were limited to 257 total yards.
"Honestly, I'm done trying to find explanations," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "We've got to play better. Obviously, we're not playing good enough to win. That's the bottom line. We are fighting."
Here are five things we learned after watching two of the NFL's most disappointing teams play in a nationally televised game:
GIANTS DEE-FENCE: The defense finally showed up for the Giants. The front line had only one sack but had at least a dozen hits on Freeman. The run defense against Peterson was stellar and the overall play allowed Manning to play a conservative game on a night the offense was struggling.
NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME: Freeman, who was released by the Bucs earlier this month, isn't ready. He showed little touch with his passes, throwing the close ones too hard and missing receivers sometimes by as much as 10 yards on throws. His worst mistake was putting a ball up for grabs with the Vikings down 10-7 in the third quarter and at the Giants 31. He also took a 14-yard sack that quarter that took the Vikings out of field-goal range.
WOES AT RUNNING BACK: The Giants still don't have a top running back. David Wilson is out with a neck injury and Brandon Jacobs sat out with a hamstring injury after gaining 106 yards against the Bears 11 days ago. Hillis ran hard, but the bottom line was 36 yards on 18 carries as he was slow hitting holes. The same can be said for rookie Michael Cox, who had 23 yards on 11 carries.
ADRIAN PETERSON: The Giants expected to get a big dose of Peterson with the Vikings using Freeman at quarterback. Surprisingly, No. 28 only had 13 carries and he was targeted six other times on passes, catching three for 22 yards. For some reason, Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier had Freeman carry the burden for the offense in his first start with the team and that may have played into the Giants' hands.
SPECIAL TEAMS: While Sherels set a single-game Vikings record with 119 yards on punt returns, he also made the crucial error in the third quarter when he fumbled after tripping. Since he had not been touched by a Giants player it was a recoverable ball. The Giants' punt coverage team is dismal, having allowed a third return for a TD. Trindon Holliday had an 81-yarder for Denver and Dexter McCluster had an 89-yarder for Kansas City. New York also gave up a 69-yard kickoff return to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org