In a Monday night game that certainly didn't live up to the "save the best for last" mantra, the New York Giants beat the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7 at MetLife Stadium.
It wasn't always pretty, but Tom Coughlin's squad (1-6) has its first win of the NFL season, while the Vikings (1-5) are still searching for their first victory inside the United States of America.
Eli Manning, who has struggled for most of the season, turned in one of his best games of the year, completing 23-of-39 throws for 200 yards, one touchdown and an all-important zero turnovers. In the second quarter, he found Rueben Randle on an impressive 24-yard touchdown connection:
That turned out to the be the play of the game, as it gave the G-Men a 10-7 lead they would never give up thanks to a nightmare debut for Josh Freeman and a stingy defensive performance from the Giants.
Freeman, getting his first start for the Vikings after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, looked completely lost for much of the night. He completed just 20-of-53 throws for 190 yards (much of which came in garbage time), zero touchdowns and one interception. Meanwhile, reigning MVP Adrian Peterson was stuffed early and taken out of the gameplan in the second half, finishing with 28 yards on 13 carries.
The Vikings' only offense came on Marcus Sherels' 86-yard punt return in the first quarter:
Sherels would also hurt the Vikings on special teams. In the third quarter, he fumbled a punt return inside his team's five-yard line, leading to an easy Peyton Hillis touchdown run.
Hillis, called into action with New York's slew of running back injuries, ran for 36 hard-nosed yards and pulled in five receptions for 45 yards, looking surprisingly strong for a player who was signed just five days ago.
In the end, the Giants played it safe on offense—they gained 257 total yards and had just one turnover on a fumble from Randle—and completely stifled the Vikings on defense. Minnesota finished with 206 total yards, seven punts and just 13 first downs.
It wasn't the most memorable victory for the Giants, but it was a comprehensive performance for win No. 1—and that's all that matters right now.
Josh Freeman, Vikings: D
Freeman is still learning the offense, and being thrust into a road game on national television for your first game with a new team isn't ideal.
So, to be fair, we aren't quite grading Freeman on the National Honor Society scale.
Still, though, a new offense doesn't have much to do with him looking terribly inaccurate and forcing a throw that results in a bad interception.
"Nightmare" might not even begin to describe Freeman's debut.
Eli Manning, Giants: B+
Criticizing Eli Manning has become the general population's favorite pastime, but the polarizing QB was solid on Monday night.
He misfired on a couple of throws, most notably barely putting one out of Hakeem Nicks' reach in the end zone in the first quarter. But Manning spread the ball around nicely, didn't force anything and, for the most part, was accurate with his throws.
The final numbers aren't anything special, but he was also plagued by drops in key situations and didn't turn the ball over.
It was exactly what he needed.
Jared Allen, Vikings: A-
Allen was one of the few bright spots for the Vikings on a forgettable night.
First of all, he had one of the most impressive sacks—and displays of finger strength—you'll ever see:
That was one of the themes of the night, as Allen turned himself into a nuisance for Manning, getting into the backfield with consistency and racking up four QB hits. But the mulleted-superstar wasn't just a one-trick pony, as he made plays in the running game and picked up four tackles and two for a loss.
Peyton Hillis, Giants: B
Much like with Manning, the numbers don't jump out at you. But Hillis, who saw very little room in the run game, ran with real purpose, breaking tackles and fighting for extra yardage.
It was an impressive performance, but even more so when you consider this is what he was doing a week ago:
He also served as a reliable threat in the passing game and likely earned himself some more playing time with a gritty, physical effort the Giants needed.
The Giants head on the road to take on the Philadelphia Eagles, while Minnesota will try to right the ship at home against the Green Bay Packers.