Vikings Kicking Game Puts Final Blow In Giants
E. RUTHERFORD –In short, Minnesota 24, New York 21 was the result of a number of things. The Vikings won because they were able to return an interception, a kick-off and a punt for touchdown. But their secondary- Darren Sharper, in particular- was proficient enough to intercept Eli Manning [23 of 48 for 291 yards, but only a 39.5 passer rating] twice within the red zone and four times overall.
The Giants [6-3] were in a one-possession game because LB Antonio Pierce [10 combined tackles, one fumble recovery] led a superlative defensive effort. Their ‘D’ yielded a mere 137 total yards and has now denied the opposition from the end zone for a third straight game. In all, they have not allowed a touchdown in 14 quarters, spanning 208:26 and 46 possessions.
But, invariably, the game was decided because of one kick that was good and one that wasn’t.
New York had trailed, 21-13, with the ball on their own 33 and 3:17 remaining in the fourth quarter. Manning, from the shotgun, completed three consecutive passes for 30 yards. Tiki Barber picked up 11 more with a run and, two plays later, netted 18 with a catch-and-run. On second and goal, Barber sliced through the middle of the line for a touchdown and, then, repeated the play for a 21-21 tie.
The Giants’ defense had played brilliantly until the game’s final drive. And that is when the Vikings –who never trailed- responded to New York’s late touchdown and subsequent game-tying two-point conversion.
Minnesota began their final series on its own 28, but Brad Johnson hit Jermaine Wiggins for 21 yards; three more completions moved the ball to the Giants’ 30-yard line, thereby allowing Paul Edinger, who had earlier failed from 40 and 32 yards, a chance for redemption.
“Paul’s a veteran kicker,” said the Giants’ Jay Fealy, who had made 19 of 20 before missing a 28-yard chip shot with 1:17 remaining in the first half. “He’s been there a lot. He knows how to bounce back from a miss. Once they got into field goal range, I was sure he would make the kick.”
Minnesota [4-5] averted overtime when Edinger converted from 48 yards away with 10 seconds remaining in regulation.
“It’s just a matter of sticking with it and knowing I can make it,” said Edinger, who is now 14 of 21 this season. “I’ve done it plenty of times. I played it like I did the previous kick. There wasn’t any wind at the time; the flag was flat. I kicked it down the middle and that’s where it went.”
“Defense blew the game; we are the ones that gave up the last three points,” said Pierce. “Our offense did their job at the end of the game. It was our job to make sure it goes into overtime. We did our part in the beginning, but it is not how you start -it is how you finish.”
New York had started as poorly as they finished.
Willie Ponder fumbled the opening kickoff, but was redeemed when Edinger’s partially-blocked attempt scraped the crossbar from 32 yards out.
In the second quarter, Sharper stepped in front of Plaxico Burress, along the left flank, and waltzed 92 yards for the opening score. It was his ninth career touchdown, his seventh as a result of a pick, and second this season.
Fealy, then, drilled field goals of 35 and 48 yards to produce a 7-6 halftime lead.
But, Koren Robinson dashed 86 yards with the second half kickoff and M. Moore silenced the 78,637 fans with a 71-yard punt return, as the Vikings built a 21-13 lead. It was the first time that a team has scored by these three means in the 84-year history of the league.
“We fumbled the opening kickoff, had a punt return against for a touchdown, a kickoff return against and an interception when were knocking on the goal line. It is just beyond belief that we would play that poorly. Head Coach Tom Coughlin lamented.
“We didn’t tackle well on special teams at all. We did a good job defensively all day long, with the exception of the last drive. But, that was not anywhere near close to the kind of football that we either talk about or teach.”