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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When all a team can boast about after a game is one punt return, well, it's probably been a long night.
The Minnesota Vikings, looking nothing like the team that rode Adrian Peterson into the playoffs last year, lost 23-7 to the previously winless New York Giants.
Peterson never got going, new quarterback Josh Freeman couldn't have been more rusty, and the Vikings (1-5) committed three turnovers Monday.
Peterson managed only 28 yards — his previous low this year was 62 in last week's loss to Carolina — and Freeman was missing his targets by yards with high, wide and low passes. Even though the Minnesota defense performed decently, the Vikings had little chance.
"A lot of the plays were just a hair off," Freeman said after going 20 of 53 for 190 yards.
"It was tough sledding. We couldn't get anything established up front," Peterson added.
And the Vikings made it difficult on themselves. Only that 86-yard punt runback by Marcus Sherels was a bright spot.
He sped down the left sideline virtually untouched near the end of the first quarter, then twice faked out punter Steve Weatherford. By the time Weatherford reached Sherels, it was at the goal line — where Weatherford brought him down with a horse-collar tackle.
Minnesota had a total of 8 yards on punt runbacks heading into Monday night. But Sherels set a team mark with 119.
"Guys did a great job blocking and made my job easy," he said.
But everything else was difficult.
The Giants began the season as the team turning over the ball (minus-16 difference) while showing little penchant for playing defense. But against the Vikings, they had the three takeaways to one lost fumble.
Peterson, the league's MVP last season and a 2,000-yard rusher, was held in check five days after his 2-year-old son was buried in South Dakota. The man accused in the death was indicted on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, prosecutors said Monday.
"I was focused on preparing for the game, unfortunately it didn't work out the way we wanted to," he said. "It was tough. The defense made it hard."
Peterson was not helped by Freeman, making his debut as Vikings quarterback after being signed as a free agent when Tampa Bay cut the 2009 first-round draft pick.
"He did everything possible," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "He spent hours and hours at the facility getting ready and you have to give him credit for that."
Josh Brown kicked three field goals and Rueben Randle caught a 24-yard TD pass for New York (1-6).
"For us, we can't look too much past a win and a step in the right direction," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "We can't look beyond the next step."
Sherels' fumble without being hit during a runback midway in the third quarter set up New York at the Vikings 3. Peyton Hillis, signed last Wednesday with the Giants in dire need of running backs, surged in from the 1 for a 17-7 lead — New York's biggest in 2013.
The lead grew on Brown's 23-yard field goal to finish off a 16-play, 75-yard drive, and to 23-7 on his 36-yarder. Another Vikings mistake handed those points to the Giants: Rookie Sharrif Floyd, a defensive tackle of all things, fumbled at Minnesota's 18 while returning a short kickoff.
The Giants controlled the clock and the ball for most of the opening quarter and led 3-0 when Sherels broke his spectacular punt return — the third against the Giants this season.
Before Sherels' sprint, New York had gone 17 plays and used up the first 9:36, but bogged down at the 16 and Brown made a 35-yard field goal.
And one play after Minnesota hurt itself on rookie Xavier Rhodes' 23-yard pass interference penalty, Manning threw a laser to a leaping Randle in the left corner of the end zone for a 10-7 lead.
It was the first time New York led at halftime all season. The defense held Peterson to 9 yards rushing on eight carries, and he didn't do much more in the second half.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org