Mariano Rivera attends a game between the Giants and the...

Mariano Rivera attends a game between the Giants and the Minnesota Vikings at MetLife Stadium. (Oct. 21, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Well, at least one prominent figure on the New York sports scene hadn't stopped believing in Eli Manning. And who knows? Maybe seeing future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera decked out in a No. 10 Giants jersey gave Manning just a little more hope at a time when that commodity has been in short supply.

The now-retired Yankees icon was on hand for the opening coin toss for Monday night's Giants-Vikings game at MetLife Stadium and had a brief exchange with Manning just before the quarterback took the field.

"He's been the best for a long time," Manning said. "Just the way he goes about it every night, pitching and closing games and always ready. He's had an unbelievable career here in New York, and it was a pleasure to get to talk to him before the game. I was honored he was wearing my jersey."

Manning had thrown a whopping 15 interceptions during the Giants' 0-6 start, the worst streak of his career. But the former two-time Super Bowl MVP finally put together a turnover-free game, and though it wasn't his best work, it still was good enough for the Giants to get their first victory, 23-7.

Manning was 23-for-39 for 200 yards and a touchdown. It was the longest a Giants team had gone without a win from the start of the season since 1976, when they went 0-9 before finally winning.

Afterward, Manning wore something we haven't seen all season: a smile. "It's nice to have a little excitement in the locker room afterward, and it's fun," he said. "You don't win, and after a while, you kind of forget that winning feeling. So it's good to get one right here, and we needed it, so hopefully we keep it going."

Of course, there are no guarantees the Giants will build on the win. After all, as bad as the Giants had been in the early going, the Vikings' problems were worse. Specifically at quarterback. They essentially have given up on Christian Ponder, realized that Matt Cassel isn't much better and figured they'd give former first-round quarterback Josh Freeman a shot.

Freeman was signed after the Bucs released him following a soap opera-like series of missteps. And he was absolutely dreadful, going 20-for-53 for 190 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, a quarterback rating of 40.6. Adrian Peterson was held to 28 yards on 13 carries, his lowest rushing output since the 2011 season.

Manning certainly appreciated the effort by the guys on the other side of the ball.

"When the defense is dominating the game, it does help our offense," he said. "We built a little bit of a lead, so we could be patient. It does make a difference for us and can change our game plan a little bit."

Manning threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle to make it 10-7 early in the second quarter and was efficient through most of the game. But he wasn't perfect.

He nearly was intercepted on a third-quarter pass intended for Victor Cruz down the left sideline. Marcus Sherels had a clear path to the end zone but dropped the ball. On the very next play, Sherels, who had returned a punt 86 yards in the first quarter for the Vikings' only score, dropped a punt near his own goal line. Peyton Hillis punched it in from a yard out to make it 17-7.

Exhale, Eli.

"I just wanted to get that winning feeling back," Manning said. "You work so hard every week and you're not always getting the results that you want. We're doing all the right things. Our preparation's been good every week. If you keep doing the right things, it will come around. You'll start to play the way you can."

It may be too late to go on a run and get back in the playoff race, but at least the Giants got to one. They were beginning to wonder if they'd even get that far. Especially the quarterback during the worst moments of an otherwise excellent career.


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