EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — With six losses on their resume, the New York Giants could have been wondering if they would ever win a game this season.
Instead, they searched within to see what they are made of.
“The players and coaches have great pride in what we’re doing,” Eli Manning said Monday night after — at last — the team’s first victory, 23-7 over the Minnesota Vikings. “We just had to keep going, get rid of some of the mistakes, and play the way we need to play.”
They were efficient, if not overwhelming, which is all they needed to be against the mistake-prone Vikings (1-5).
The Giants began the season as the team turning over the ball (minus-16 difference) while showing little penchant for playing defense. But against the Vikings, they had three takeaways to one lost fumble.
Adrian Peterson, the league’s MVP last season and a 2,000-yard rusher, was held to 28 yards five days after his 2-year-old son was buried in South Dakota. The man accused in the death was indicted on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, prosecutors said Monday.
“It was tough sledding. We couldn’t get anything established up front,” Peterson said.
“I was focused on preparing for the game, unfortunately it didn’t work out the way we wanted to. It was tough. The defense made it hard.”
Peterson was not helped by a rusty Josh Freeman, making his debut as Vikings quarterback after being signed as a free agent when Tampa Bay cut the 2009 first-round draft pick. Freeman frequently missed open receivers, and several of his throws sailed yards beyond his targets.
Coach Leslie Frazier said he considered taking out Freeman, but that the score was close enough for him to stick with his new QB.
Josh Brown kicked three field goals and Rueben Randle caught a 24-yard TD pass for New York (1-6).
“For us, we can’t look too much past a win and a step in the right direction,” defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “We can’t look beyond the next step.”
Marcus Sherels provided Minnesota’s points with an 86-yard punt return, but his fumble without being hit during a runback midway in the third quarter set up New York at the Vikings 3.
Peyton Hillis, signed last Wednesday with the Giants in dire need of running backs, surged in from the 1 for a 17-7 lead — New York’s biggest in 2013.
The lead grew on Brown’s 23-yard field goal to finish off a 16-play, 75-yard drive, and to 23-7 on his 36-yarder. Another Vikings mistake handed those points to the Giants: Rookie Sharrif Floyd, a defensive tackle of all things, fumbled at Minnesota’s 18 while returning a short kickoff.
“We needed to get one on the board,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “I told (general manager) Jerry Reese that I think we have a shovel to start digging our way out of this hole. Hopefully, tonight is something we can build off. It’s still a long way to climb out of this hole. But this was something that we could get the ball rolling.”
The Giants controlled the clock and the ball for most of the opening quarter and led 3-0 when Sherels broke his spectacular punt return — the third against the Giants this season. He sped down the left sideline virtually untouched, then twice faked out punter Steve Weatherford. By the time Weatherford reached Sherels, it was at the goal line — where Weatherford brought him down with a horse-collar tackle.
Minnesota had a total of 8 yards on punt runbacks heading into Monday night. But Sherels set a team mark with 119.
Before Sherels’ sprint, New York had gone 17 plays and used up the first 9:36, but bogged down at the 16 and Brown made a 35-yard field goal.
And one play after Minnesota hurt itself on rookie Xavier Rhodes’ 23-yard pass interference penalty, Manning threw a laser to a leaping Randle in the left corner of the end zone for a 10-7 lead.
It was the first time New York led at halftime all season. The defense held Peterson to 9 yards rushing on eight carries, and he didn’t do much more in the second half.
Manning, who led the league with 15 interceptions, didn’t throw one for the first time all season. And while Freeman was picked only one time, by Antrel Rolle, he looked like someone who hadn’t played in more than a month.
“A lot of the plays were just a hair off,” Freeman said.
Freeman finished 20 of 53 for 190 yards. Manning was 23 for 39 for 200 yards.
NOTES: Giants center David Baas, who missed the last three games with a neck injury, returned but soon was sidelined by a knee problem. He’ll have an MRI on Tuesday. ... Frazier said there would be MRIs for fullback Rhett Ellison on his left ankle, and halfback Matt Asiata on his shoulder. ... The Giants had given up a league-high 209 points before shutting down Minnesota.