One-and-six never felt so good. Or looked so ugly.
In a Monday Nighter that accurately reflected the combined record of 1-10 the two teams brought into the game, the Giants finally found an opponent that could out-mistake them and landed in the win column for the first time this season with a 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at MetLife Stadium.
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It certainly was not enough to quell all of the concerns that built up during the Giants' first six games, but for the first time in 295 days, they were able to exhale with relief after a game.
"Oh," Tom Coughlin said, "this is what it feels like?"
The players, too, were equal parts exhilarated and relieved to notch their first victory of the season, and it had them looking forward to more.
"Oh, man, it's the most noise we ever made coming out of a win," said Rueben Randle, who caught a 24-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter that gave the Giants the lead for good. "I'm glad to have that feeling back and we can get this train rolling with a couple more in a row."
The Giants (1-6) are three games behind the first-place Cowboys in the NFC East, a distance they have been at various points this season. But it was hard to convince others -- and maybe even themselves -- that the playoffs were reachable until they got that first win. Now?
"We think we have a shovel in our hands now to start digging out of this hole," Justin Tuck said.
Marcus Sherels, who scored the Vikings' only touchdown on an 86-yard punt return in the first quarter, played an integral role in the game's defining sequence midway through the third. On third-and-10, Eli Manning tried to hit Victor Cruz, but Sherels jumped the route and had a chance to make an interception. He dropped the ball, and the Giants were grateful for the opportunity to punt.
Sherels fielded the kick but slipped on the return without being touched by a Giants defender, and when he hit the turf, the ball popped out. Zak DeOssie was able to recover it at the 3, and two plays later, the Giants' newest running back, Peyton Hillis, ran it in from the 1 for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
A 23-yard field goal by Josh Brown with 12:13 left in the fourth quarter essentially iced the game at 20-7. Jacquian Williams recovered a fumbled kickoff return by defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd that had been forced out by Damontre Moore. It led to another field goal, this one a 36-yarder that made it 23-7 with 11:03 left.
Before he was the ugliest goat in a game that stunk like a goat farm, Sherels had the most exciting play of the night. For the third time this season, a Giants punt was returned for a touchdown. Moore, the gunner, ran past Sherels, who caught the ball at the 14 while pinned against the sideline and returned it past a diving DeOssie and a blocked Mathias Kiwanuka. The 86-yarder gave the Vikings (1-5) a 7-3 lead with 23 seconds left in the first quarter. They were the only points in a game in which the defense pitched a virtual shutout.
Said Coughlin, "The only real blemish was the punt return which drove us all crazy."
The Giants were able to retake the lead when Manning hit Randle on the 24-yarder with 9:33 left in the second quarter. They held it for the rest of the game and carried it with them into the locker room for the first postgame party of the year.
"This is how it's supposed to feel after a game," guard David Diehl said.
It just took a while to get there. "The first thing you do is knock on the door, and then you pound," Diehl said, "and if that doesn't work, you have to kick the door open. That's the case here."
Notes & quotes: Mariano Rivera was the honorary captain for the Giants and entered the field for the opening coin toss to "Enter Sandman" and a huge ovation from the fans and the Giants players, who applauded from the sideline . . . RB Brandon Jacobs (hamstring) was inactive, leaving Hillis and Michael Cox as the only active running backs . . . Vikings DE Jared Allen made the sack of the game, and perhaps the season, when he was able to wrangle Manning to the ground while reaching around LT Will Beatty's waist . . . C David Baas returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Week 2 but left after the first series with a knee injury.