Vikings 24, Giants 21
An offense that had been stuck in neutral all afternoon finally got moving just when the Minnesota Vikings needed it. They already had become the first NFL team to score on a kickoff, punt and interception return in the same game, but that didn't translate into a win until they crafted one decent drive and place kicker Paul Edinger connected on a 48-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to beat the New York Giants, 24-21, Sunday at Giants Stadium.
A bizarre game full of inelegant football ended with the Vikings (4-5) winning on the road for the first time this season and climbing back into the NFC North race, while the Giants (6-3) squandered a chance to tighten their grip on first place in the NFC East.
"I'm glad the guys figured out that we could win the game on defense and special teams because once you figure out you can win on defense and special teams, maybe we can turn this road [stuff] around," Vikings Coach Mike Tice said.
The Vikings managed only 137 yards on offense and watched Edinger miss field goal attempts after two early turnovers by the Giants. But they led for most of the game because of touchdowns on a 92-yard interception return by safety Darren Sharper, an 86-yard kickoff return by Koren Robinson and a 71-yard punt return by Mewelde Moore. The Giants helped out with nine penalties, a missed 28-yard field goal by place kicker Jay Feely and five turnovers -- four on interceptions thrown by second-year quarterback Eli Manning.
Manning and the Giants pulled themselves together long enough to tie the game with 1 minute 21 seconds remaining on a three-yard touchdown run by tailback Tiki Barber and a two-point conversion. But the Vikings, held to 95 yards of offense to that point, moved from their 28-yard line to the Giants 30 to set up the winning field goal, getting going with a 21-yard completion from quarterback Brad Johnson to tight end Jermaine Wiggins.
"The feeling is, we gave one away today," Giants linebacker Nick Greisen said. "With the amount of turnovers we had, we definitely gave one away today. We need to learn from this and make sure it never happens again. We need to go back to the fundamentals and playing sound football. We only allowed them to put together one drive, but it was at the most critical time."
The Vikings won their second straight game since Johnson replaced the injured Daunte Culpepper as their starting quarterback, and they're only two games behind the division-leading Chicago Bears in a season that had seemed like a lost cause. They generated early-season disappointment on the field with their play and controversy off of it with allegations of improper and possibly criminal behavior on a boat cruise attended by nearly 20 players. But the Vikings were all smiles in their locker room Sunday as first-year owner Zygmunt Wilf, a long-time Giants season ticket holder, celebrated with his players and coaches.
"To come in here and do that against a good team is huge for us," Johnson said. "It was an awesome feeling, especially to have it come down to the last drive like that."
Said Tice: "We've had a lot of [stuff] going on. We've had a lot of people bail out on us. But the guys have hung together. They believe in each other. It's a close group."
Tice's eventful day included receiving an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for disputing a Vikings' touchdown being negated by offensive pass interference, and spraining a knee ligament when a the Giants' Jamaar Taylor was blocked into him on the sideline during a punt play.
"Fourteen years [as a player] in the league, I never hurt my knee," Tice said. "To get wiped out on a punt return is kind of embarrassing."
The Giants were even more embarrassed, as Manning threw more than two interceptions in a game for the first time in his career. "He's a good quarterback, but he's still young," said Sharper, who had three of Minnesota's interceptions. "We did some things to try to confuse him and get him to throw some balls our way, and he did."
Said Manning: "I'm not where I need to be as a quarterback and as a player. I try to play smart football and give us a chance to win, and throwing four interceptions is not smart football."
It had been an emotional few days leading up to the game for the Giants, with the health of co-owner Robert Tisch deteriorating. Last year, Tisch learned he had an inoperable brain tumor, and Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said after the game that he had been told Friday that Tisch was "very, very ill." Coughlin, General Manager Ernie Accorsi, Barber and defensive end Michael Strahan visited Tisch on Saturday. The Giants' other co-owner, Wellington Mara, died last month.
The Giants fumbled the opening kickoff and Manning threw a first-quarter interception deep in his own territory, but Edinger misfired from 40 yards and a 32-yard attempt was blocked. Still, the Vikings led 7-6 after a first half in which their offense mustered six yards, thanks to Sharper's interception return, and Robinson's touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half made it a 14-6 advantage. Manning's 23-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Amani Toomer got the Giants within a point, but Moore's punt return restored the Vikings' lead to eight points.
"You give them 21 free points -- you can't do that in the NFL," Manning said.
The Giants had a fourth-quarter touchdown on a screen pass to Barber wiped out by a penalty on guard Chris Snee for being illegally downfield. Sharper got an interception on a deflected pass on the next play, but the Giants got the ball back and tied the game on their next possession before the Minnesota offense finally awakened.