EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., OCT. 25 -- What the New York Giants needed was an easy day at the office, a game with no tension and no real resistance. The defending Super Bowl champions were more desperate for a victory than any team in the National Football League on this back-to-work Sunday. If the Giants could have handpicked the opponent, they might have chosen Columbia.

But the St. Louis Cardinals did just fine. Harry Carson should have filled his Gatorade bucket with champagne and dumped it on Coach Bill Parcells, because the Giants won their first game in exactly nine months, trampling the Cardinals, 30-7, in Giants Stadium.

Quarterback Phil Simms threw three touchdown passes, two of them to wide receiver Lionel Manuel, as the Giants opened a 17-0 lead and were never threatened.

Simms threw first-quarter scoring passes of three yards to tight end Mark Bavaro and 16 to Manuel, and Raul Allegre added a 28-yard field goal with 2:36 left for a 17-0 lead. Allegre kicked a 35-yarder in the third quarter and a 32-yarder in the fourth to finish the scoring. Manuel made a diving catch in the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown with 9:33 to go.

But the Giants still are 1-5, and Parcells was quiet, expressionless, unemotional, and perhaps even a bit teed off in victory. "I hope this gets us started," he said, tersely.

Asked if he was unhappy, Parcells said, "No, I'm happy we won; we've just got a long way to go."

Do they ever. Because the veteran Giants lost their first two games this season, and because the motley strike-replacement team lost all three of its games, the defending champions returned to action with the worst record in the league, facing a must-win situation even though the season isn't half over.

"I think we were a nervous team coming in today," Simms said. "If we had lost, it would have put us in such a tough position, it would have been so unbearable, we could have just folded our tents up. Not that our position looks that good, but at least this gives us something to play for."

The Giants relieved some of the pressure by jumping to a 17-0 lead before halftime, and cruising to a 30-0 lead before St. Louis scored a meaningless touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game.

While the Cardinals looked every bit like a replacement team, Simms set a club regular season record for passing efficiency by completing 17 of 21.

Even so, there were few smiles in the Giants locker room. The players appeared a little more upbeat than Parcells, but not much. "Yeah, Bill was quiet. Real quiet all week," linebacker Carl Banks said. "He has nothing to smile about right now. None of us do.

"We can't say this is a helluva victory because we're too far in the hole for that. This is not exactly a great deal of momentum, winning one game."

It was the first win for the Giants since beating Denver in Super Bowl XXI on Jan. 25 in Pasadena, Calif.

The Giants have changed a little in that time. George Adams moved into the lineup at fullback, replacing Maurice Carthon. Parcells went with a two tight end formation, making maximum use of his two fine players in that spot, Zeke Mowatt and Bavaro.

And, at least for today, the result was the same as last year. The Giants ran and passed with success. The defense, especially Lawrence Taylor and the linebackers, played with abandon not seen in season-opening losses to the Bears and Cowboys.

But with every victory, assuming the Giants can string a few together, the pressure will mount.

Center Bart Oates said: "We can't start looking at the standings and thinking, 'Well, the Giants can go to the playoffs if they go .500 and so-and-so loses two of the next three games.' I don't know, and I don't want to know, who's after Dallas on our schedule."

Having said that, Oates added with that touch of old-time Giant cockiness, "I'll tell you right now, we'll beat the Cowboys. And if it's close, I'll be surprised."

Even though the players won't publicly look down the road, it won't keep other people from doing so. With each victory, the playoff watch will grow. One could suggest that New York's situation isn't as desperate as 1-5 sounds. Today's victory means the Giants are only two games behind any legitimate wild-card contender.

"If any team can do it, we can," defensive back Herb Welch said earlier this week.

The NFL owners could decide this week, at their annual fall meeting in Kansas City, Mo., to change the playoff format by adding teams or splitting the season into parts and make all the speculation useless. But the Giants certainly can't plan on that; they had to start with a victory against the Cardinals.

The Cardinals had three turnovers and a 20-yard punt in the first half, contributing to the Giants' 17-0 halftime lead. The tone for the game was set on the first series when Leonard Marshall rushed up the middle and nailed quarterback Neil Lomax, who was in the middle of his throwing motion. The ball popped about five yards ahead into Carson's waiting arms at the St. Louis 38.

Five plays later, on third and goal from the 3, Simms hit Bavaro for a touchdown. Before the quarter was halfway over, Simms had passed for another touchdown, this one for 16 yards to Manuel.

With just more than two minutes to play in the half, Allegre kicked a 28-yard field goal to make it 17-0.

St. Louis 0 0 0 7 7 N.Y. Giants 14 3 3 10 30

First Quarter

NY -- Bavaro 3 pass from Simms (Allegre kick), 4:14

NY -- Manuel 16 pass from Simms (Allegre kick), 11:34 Second Quarter

NY -- FG Allegre 28, 12:24 Third Quarter

NY -- FG Allegre 35, 11:54 Fourth Quarter

NY -- Manuel 28 pass from Simms (Allegre kick), 8:33

NY -- FG Allegre 32, 11:14

STL -- Novacek 18 pass from Lomax (Gallery kick), 13:05

A -- 74,391

Cardinals Giants First downs 19 21 Rushes-yards 19-51 43-162 Passing yards 257 232 Return yards 19 30 Passing 23-32-2 17-21-0 Sacked-yards lost 5-23 3-21 Punts-average 5-38 4-46 Fumbles-lost 3-2 2-1 Penalties-yards 7-63 6-40 Time of possession 24:22

RUSHING -- St. Louis: Mitchell 12-39, Lomax 3-17, McAdoo 1-5, Ferrell 3-minus 10. New York: Morris 22-88, A

PASSING -- St. Louis: Lomax 23-32-2, 280 yards. New York: Simms 17-21-0, 253.

RECEIVING -- St. Louis: Green 5-72, Mitchell 5-49, Novacek 4-53, J.T. Smith 3-49, Ferrell 3-31, Wolfley 1-1