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Dottino: Gradual Improvement Finally Pays Off For Giants

Game Balls And Gassers From Long-Awaited 1st Win
Peyton Hillis runs the ball in Monday's win against the Minnesota Vikings. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Peyton Hillis runs the ball in Monday’s win against the Minnesota Vikings. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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By Paul Dottino
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The important thing for the Giants is that they finally won a game. Their convincing 23-7 victory over the lowly Minnesota Vikings (1-5) allowed them to exhale after opening the season with six straight losses.

Coach Tom Coughlin’s team played what may have been its most complete game of the season, albeit with flaws. However, there’s also no doubt that the Giants have shown small steps of improvement over each of the past four games — enough to think that they ought to be much more competitive over the second half of their schedule.

Before we get to this week’s review, just think about this for a moment: Peyton Hillis out-rushed Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson.

Peterson was held to 28 yards (sixth-lowest total of his career) on 13 carries, with a long of eight. He also caught just two passes for 28. The Giants stopped two of his runs for negative yardage and two for no gain. MLB Jon Beason was in on five tackles during Peterson’s 15 touches. DE Justin Tuck was in on three.

OK, so here we go:

GAME BALLS

Offense — RB Peyton Hillis. The free agent came off the street to sign Wednesday and played 48 snaps (or 65 percent) in the offense. He ran just 18 times for 36 yards, although he powered his way to a 1-yard TD in the third quarter and caught five of the six passes targets at him for 45 yards. He appeared to handle his assignments well and did not make any glaring errors – other than his second-quarter fumble (which he recovered).

Defense — Several. OK, we don’t usually allow for more than one, but there were four players who stepped up above the rest on what was a strong defensive effort that held the Vikings to 206 total yards in 24 minutes.

For example, this was the type of performance the Giants have been waiting to see out of DE Justin Tuck all season. He finished with four tackles (two for losses), three quarterback hits and a sack. He looked energized and powerful throughout the night. The same could be said about several of his teammates. DT Shaun Rogers was a beast, registering four hits on QB Josh Freeman, who was drilled a Giants’ season-high 13 times. S Antrel Rolle (five tackles) defended three passes, including a huge third-quarter interception at the Giants 5 on an overthrown pass intended for TE Kyle Rudolph – one play after PR Rueben Randle coughed up the ball. And don’t forget MLB Jon Beason, who led the team with nine tackles, proving for the second straight game that he’s making a difference.

Special teams — LS Zak DeOssie. He alertly pounced on a loose ball when Marcus Sherels dropped it on his own during a punt return at the Minnesota 10 — the Giants converted it into a Hillis TD and a 17-7 lead with 8:37 left in the third quarter. By the way, don’t blame P Steve Weatherford for Sherels’ 86-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter. He drilled a high and deep ball to the right sideline, where Sherels was able to elude DeOssie and the weave his way into the open field for the score before a pursuing Weatherford caught him in the end zone. Weatherford had nine punts for a 48.7-yard average and had terrific hang time.

GASSERS

Offense — WR Hakeem Nicks. Three dropped passes. A third-down sideline route on the opening drive of the game forced the Giants to settle for a field goal. Nicks also failed to grab a second-down slant on the first play of the second quarter with the Giants at their own 23 and a first-down slant with 6:25 left in the period and the Giants at their own 44.

Defense — CB Prince Amukamara. We’re going to excuse him from running sprints because it took a microscope to find any issues with a defense that handcuffed Peterson and registered a shutout. But Amukamara was flagged three times – with two accepted penalties (of the five against the Giants) and both of those came on the Vikings’ meaningless next-to-last drive of the game.

Special teams — WR Rueben Randle. He got the ball stripped by the Vikings’ Larry Dean on a punt return at the Giants 38 after Minnesota was forced to punt on his opening drive of the second half. Cullen Loeffler was credited with the recovery, even though the replay appeared to show he didn’t have control of the ball until he touched the sideline. Two plays later, Rolle bailed out Randle with an interception.

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