EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Eli Manning threw two interceptions, but the Vikings secondary threw both of them back.
So scratch what should have been a gritty effort by an overmatched secondary whose best player, safety Harrison Smith, is out indefinitely because of a turf toe injury.
Scratch what would have been a first-possession drive-stopper by Smith’s replacement, Andrew Sendejo, and what could have been a go-ahead third-quarter pick-six for backup nickelback Marcus Sherels. In their place, give the Giants a first-quarter field goal — capping a 9-minute, 36-second opening drive — a backbreaking third-quarter touchdown that came three snaps after Sherels dropped his interception at midfield and, oh yeah, their first win of the season, a 23-7 rout at MetLife Stadium on Monday night.
Making Sherels’ drop even worse was the fact he fumbled away a punt at his 3 on the ensuing snap. So what should have been a game-turning interception and TD after a perfect read while covering Victor Cruz on third-and-10 became a 17-7 deficit when Giants running back Peyton Hillis scored from a yard out three snaps later, with 8:37 left in the third quarter.
Manning came into the game with a league-high 17 turnovers, including 15 interceptions. The Giants were a league-worst minus-16 in turnover margin.
Manning seemed determined to increase both numbers. On the 12th play of the Giants’ 17-play game-opening drive, he threw a ball over the middle. Tight end Larry Donnell fell, leaving Sendejo wide open for what should have been his first career interception in just his second start. But unlike the ball-hawking Smith, who has five pickoffs in 22 NFL games, the undrafted third-year pro dropped the ball. Literally.
Four plays later, Hakeem Nicks beat rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes and was wide open in the end zone. But Manning, who was off early in the game, overthrew what should have been a pitch-and-catch 16-yard TD on third-and-3. The Giants settled for a 35-yard field goal.
On the Giants’ third series, Manning gave the Vikings secondary another gift when he overthrew Hillis, who had plenty of room to run on third-and-9.
But after a Vikings three-and-out, Rhodes returned the favor with a 23-yard pass interference penalty on Nicks. One play later, Manning regained the sharpness that’s helped him win two Super Bowl MVPs when he connected with Rueben Randle for a 24-yard touchdown. Cornerback Chris Cook was near Randle, but couldn’t make a play on the ball, as was the case too many times for the Vikings secondary.
Sherels had a chance to erase everything when he got the jump on Cruz on an out pass to the left sideline with 9:30 left in the third quarter and the Vikings trailing 10-7. It was Sherels’ chance to add an interception return for a touchdown to the 86-yard punt return for a touchdown that he had earlier in the game.
For the first time this season, the Giants didn’t allow a team to score at least 27 points. Manning also didn’t play particularly well, completing 23 of 39 passes for 200 yards.
But the Giants did win the turnover battle, 3-1, for the first time this season. And for that, the Vikings can blame only a secondary that was all thumbs Monday night.