Vikings vs. Giants: Takeaways from New York's 23-7 Win over Minnesota
Six winless weeks came and went, but the New York Giants finally found their first win of the season in lucky Week 7. New York now stands at 1-6 after its 23-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football.
The Vikings could hardly be considered a formidable foe with only one win of their own, but at this point, the Giants will take whatever they can get. With nine games still to be played, New York is only three games back on the division-leading Dallas Cowboys, who sit atop the NFC East with a 4-3 record.
Was the Giants' first win of the season enough to restore faith in their 2013 campaign? Or was it simply a case of the less awful team stumbling in on a victory?
You may exhale now.
Do you remember where you were on Aug. 10? Before Monday night, that was the last time the Giants had experienced anything resembling a victory, as they squeaked by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 18-13, in their preseason opener. As Art Stapleton of The Record pointed out, that span marked a 72-day winless drought.
But it's over now. The Giants are 1-6—still bottom feeders in the division, but things are at least starting to look up for Big Blue. Hey, maybe we can put the "Who should the Giants draft No. 1 overall?" conversation on the back burner for a couple of weeks—until after the Week 9 bye? We'll see how they fare against the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday...
I'm getting ahead of myself. The Giants are victors for at least the next five days, and that's cause for celebration. As this 2013 squad has proved, you never know when—or if—the next win is coming, so take advantage of the emotional high the Giants have allowed us with this win over the Vikings.
At the same time, let's not get overinflated either. Don't forget this was a win over the Vikings, who haven't won a game on American soil yet this season. New York may have stifled Minnesota, not allowing a single offensive score, but remember the Vikes were quarterbacked by Josh Freeman, who was acquired just two weeks ago.
Moving forward, wins will be much harder to come by.
But they won't be out of reach. The Giants' next two games—at Philadelphia, then home versus the Oakland Raiders—are winnable contests; they are blessed with a bye week in between. Right now, they're not anywhere close to resembling a playoff-caliber team. Nor were the eventual division champion Washington Redskins, however, when they stood at 3-6 through nine games last year.
If the Giants are to salvage anything from this nightmare of a season, they'll need to start playing better ball.
For now, they're content with win No. 1.
The Ice Wagon
Former Giants linebacker and two-time Super Bowl champion Carl Banks, who teams up with Bob Papa in the radio broadcast booth on game day, provided a colorful description of what it's like to watch newly acquired running back Peyton Hillis carry the football, via Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger.
Apparently, it's like he's pulling an "ice wagon."
We're going to have to take Banks at his rather unflattering word, since most ice wagons—and icemen, for that matter—have been out of commission since the early 20th century.
Hillis was signed just five days before Monday night's game. He was most recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during training camp, but he spent the 2012 season with the Kansas City Chiefs. Hillis' name was briefly of the household variety during the 2010 season, when he rushed for 1,117 yards, earning him a spot on the cover of Madden 12.
With both David Wilson (neck) and Brandon Jacobs (hamstring) out for Monday's game, Hillis was suddenly thrust into the starting lineup. As a starter, the former Brown was surprisingly serviceable with the Giants, who have arguably set the league's lowest standards when it comes to production from their running backs.
Hillis rushed for 36 yards on 18 carries, adding a one-yard touchdown plunge in the third quarter. He also was a factor out of the backfield, catching a team-high five passes for 45 yards.
The unexpected performance from Hillis came on the heels of Jacobs' 106-yard, two-touchdown outing versus the Bears last week, as it seems like New York has located the fountain of youth. Help is on the way, though; Andre Brown, who broke a leg in the preseason finale, is scheduled to return following the bye.
Until then, the Giants will hope Hillis can continue to channel his inner Red Grange, whose many Hall of Fame nicknames included "The Wheaton Iceman" after his offseason occupation in northeast Illinois delivering ice in the 1920s.
What About Tom Quinn?
We've heard Giants fans call for the head of just about everyone from the top down. General manager Jerry Reese, head coach Tom Coughlin, quarterback Eli Manning and pretty much anyone else imaginable has each shouldered his fair share of criticism for New York's abysmal start to the season.
One man, however, has inexplicably escaped the attention of pitchfork-wielding fans: special teams coordinator Tom Quinn.
The fact that few have targeted Quinn is surprising, especially since his counterparts, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, are two of the most heavily criticized members of the organization. While the offensive and defensive units feature most of the team's stars, it's impossible to sustain any sort of success without solid and consistent play in all three phases of the game.
New York's special teams has been slacking. Quinn's punt coverage unit allowed its third return touchdown of the season when Minnesota's Marcus Sherels brought back a Steve Weatherford kick 86 yards to the house. Kansas City's Dexter McCluster scored on an 89-yarder in Week 4, and Denver's Trindon Holliday returned an 81-yarder in Week 2.
Weatherford hasn't been as sharp with less than 20 percent of his boots downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line, but he's not the only one struggling. Rueben Randle, who fumbled on a punt return versus the Vikings, has averaged less than six yards per return, while New York's opponents have averaged upward of 18. Kick returns have lacked explosion, too. They are down an average of three yards per return compared to last year.
Now, the special teams wasn't all bad versus Minnesota. The Vikings fumbled a punt return and a kick return, both of which the Giants were able to smother and convert into points. That doesn't change, however, the subpar level of play we're seeing from these units on a regular basis.
Quinn, by the way, is the same coordinator who somehow kept his job through the 2010 debacle, which featured the Matt Dodge project at punter.
Rolle-ing to Victory
Does the Giants' 23-7 win over the Vikings qualify as a blowout?
You'd have to ask Giants safety and defensive co-captain Antrel Rolle, since he's the one who predicted it would be. New York's play certainly didn't qualify as blowout-worthy, and to be honest, the Giants owe just as much credit to the Vikings' ineptitude as they do their own execution for the 16-point margin of victory.
So, maybe it didn't go exactly as Rolle had pictured it would. No one told him that, though.
The Giants safety played as if New York was absolutely steamrolling its visitors from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Rolle finished the night with five tackles (four solo) and three pass defenses, including a beautiful one-handed interception, which he returned 25 yards the other way. He was a couple of clumsy fingers away from what was sure to be a Freeman pick-six in the flat, and he also made a touchdown-saving tackle on a kick return.
As irksome as Rolle's predictions and ridiculous quotations can be at times, I must hand it to him for his performance in Week 7. He refused to let his seemingly dead team roll over. Instead, he willed them to victory. His interception, which was his second of the season, almost immediately followed Randle's fumble, which had the potential to take all the wind from New York's recently tattered sails.
Rolle is one of the most versatile members of the secondary, and his value to the team goes far beyond his role on the field. He is one of the few emotional leaders this squad has left.
Who knows where these 2013 Giants would be without the heart Rolle brings to the team.