By Curt Macysyn
Sometimes a head coach’s decision has a dramatic impact on a game, but usually that decision comes within the context of the game. But this week, when Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier named Josh Freeman as his starter at quarterback against the New York Giants, Frazier gave the Giants an upper hand in their clash before a nationwide audience on Monday Night Football before the game even started.
With the Giants strategy of containing Vikings running back Adrian Peterson working effectively, the workload fell to an under-prepared Freeman, who struggled mightily in his Minnesota debut. The fifth-year veteran from Kansas State scuffled through a miserable evening, completing just 20 passes in 53 attempts for an anemic 37.7 completion percentage, as New York took full advantage of the Vikings ineptitude for a 23-7 win at the Meadowlands.
The Giants, who were looking for their first victory of the 2013 season, did not overwhelm the mistake-prone Vikings, but took advantage of Freeman’s inaccuracy throughout a sloppy prime time affair.
Unlike previous games, New York got off to a strong start, with a 17-play, 68-yard drive that consumed 9:36 of the first quarter. Unfortunately for Big Blue, Eli Manning missed Hakeem Nicks on an open fade pattern, which would have given New York a touchdown lead, and New York had to settle for a 35-yard Josh Brown field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Another special teams miscue gave Minnesota the lead before the first quarter was over, as Marcus Sherels returned a Steve Weatherford punt for 86 yards and a 7-3 lead. It was third punt return for a touchdown against the Giants this season.
The Giants bounced back and regained the lead for good as Eli Manning hit wide receiver Rueben Randle for a 24 yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter.
Newly signed running back Peyton Hillis scored a one-yard touchdown run after New York recovered an unforced Sherels fumble on their three yard line. Two fourth quarter Josh Brown field goals put the game away for New York and secured Tom Coughlin’s first win of the 2013 NFL season.
Although Eli Manning did not throw an interception on the evening, good fortune was on his side. Manning had a couple of errant passes dropped by Vikings defenders; if not, the outcome may have been different. On the positive side, Manning completed 59 percent of his passes and did not commit a turnover. Because of injuries to David Wilson, Andre Brown, Da’Rel Scott and Brandon Jacobs, rookie Michael Cox and newly signed Peyton Hillis shared carries in the backfield. New York only rushed for 64 yards on the ground, which was to be expected.
Offensive tackle Will Beatty allowed Vikings defensive end Jared Allen to bull rush him for a sack of Manning, and the running game only averaged 2.0 yards per carry. Starting center David Baas did not make it through the first series, requiring backup Jim Cordle to handle the load for yet another week. The inability of Baas to stay on the field constantly disrupts the continuity of the offensive line.
Victor Cruz had five catches for 50 yards, but he was a reliable target for Manning all night. Meanwhile, wideout Hakeem Nicks dropped several catchable passes and has looked out of sync with Manning all year. Brandon Myers was more noticeable in the offense, especially in his blocking assignments. Fullback John Conner looks as if he is grasping the complete playbook and had a nice catch for a ten yard gain and first down.
The ineptitude of Josh Freeman had more to do with the outcome of this game, than anything that the Giants defense did. Safety Antrel Rolle played his heart out and his second quarter interception of Freeman was the pivotal point of the game. Cornerback Prince Amukamara had another solid game with two passes defended and five solo tackles on the evening. Linebacker Jon Beason was stellar in the middle and was credited with nine tackles against Minnesota.
Once again, the Giants pass rush was non-existent, as Justin Tuck had New York’s only sack of the evening. Even in the blitz package, the G-men could not bring down Freeman when they needed to.
Special Teams: C
The punt return team flat out stinks. Three punt returns for a touchdown in seven games should be completely unacceptable to head coach Tom Coughlin. The most embarrassing aspect of Marcus Sherels 86-yard punt return was the fact that Steve Weatherford was the lone defender trying to bring down Sharels for the final 40 yards. For his efforts, Weatherford was flagged for a dubious horse collar tackle at the end of the touchdown run.
In his real job, Weatherford punted nine times for a 48.7 yard average.
Josh Brown connected on all three field goal attempts without incident. Brown’s kickoffs were good, but the kickoff return unit allowed a 69-yard return by Cordarelle Patterson after Peyton Hillis’ third quarter touchdown.
Giants starting running back Brandon Jacobs did not play due to a hamstring injury. Cornerback Corey Webster suited up but did not play for New York.
New York’s defensive tackles recorded one tackle on the evening and that was by Mike Patterson.
Minnesota dressed Christian Ponder as their backup quarterback, while last week’s starter, Matt Cassel, did not dress. Minnesota still has not won a game in the United States, the team beat Pittsburgh in London for their only win of the season.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.