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Freeman has awful debut in Vikings uniform

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After opening the season with six consecutive defeats, the New York Giants were not going to apologize if their first victory lacked style points.

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“It’s nice to win,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after his team beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 Monday at MetLife Stadium. “Hopefully it will give us some excitement and some enthusiasm in coming to work this week.”

The Giants (1-6) converted two special teams turnovers by the Vikings into 10 second-half points to pull away. Following Monday’s result, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the last winless teams in the NFL.

The Vikings (1-5) scored their only points on an 86-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels in the first quarter.

New York’s punt coverage team, which had a forgettable first half thanks to Sherels’ touchdown, came up with the first of its two game-turning plays early in the third quarter.

Sherels returned a punt to his 13-yard line before fumbling it away to Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie, who recovered the ball at the Vikings 3-yard line.

Two plays later, Peyton Hillis’ 1-yard touchdown run gave New York a 17-7 lead.

“I think I did some things to help the team win, and there’s a lot of things I didn’t,” said Hillis, who finished his Giants debut with 36 yards on 18 carries. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, and I’m just glad that I could be with this organization and get the win tonight.”

In the fourth quarter, Josh Brown’s short kickoff was fielded by Minnesota defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd, who was stripped by Damontre Moore. The ball was recovered by Giants linebacker Jacquian Williams at the Minnesota 18. That set up Brown’s third field goal of the game, a 36-yarder that capped the scoring.

The Giants’ defense not only kept the Vikings’ offense off the scoreboard, but it also provided two big plays in the third quarter. Safety Antrel Rolle intercepted a pass by Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman, and defensive end Justin Tuck had a 14-yard sack that knocked the Vikings out of field-goal range.

“It was an outstanding effort,” Coughlin said. “The guys played hard, a lot people (went) to the ball, which we knew we had to have. We did some good things in our coverage as well. I can’t say enough about our defense.”

The Giants also shut down Adrian Peterson, holding the reigning league MVP to 28 yards on 13 carries.

“Obviously we had to stop the run,” Coughlin said. “We did a good job of that.”

The Vikings’ defense played well enough to keep the team in the game, limiting the Giants to just 257 yards of total offense. However, Minnesota’s offense failed to take advantage of some opportunities created by the special teams and defense.

“In a game like this when the defense is playing so well, to keep coming up with stops ... and not get it done is frustrating,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said.

Freeman, in his first game as a Viking, completed just 38 percent of his passes (20 of 53) for 190 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed 23 of 39 passes for 200 yards and one touchdown.

Manning connected with receiver Rueben Randle on a 24-yard strike with 9:33 left in the second quarter, and the Giants held a 10-7 halftime lead. It marked the first time New York was on top at the break this season.

The Giants, who came into the night having led for all of 2:42 during their first six games, got on the board first thanks to Brown’s 35-yard field goal late in the opening quarter. It was Brown’s first successful kick since Week 2.

The lead lasted all of 4:38, as the Giants’ punt coverage team gave up its third return for a touchdown this season. Sherels scored with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.

New York regained the lead after a seven-play, 82-yard scoring drive on the ensuing possession and held the Vikings for the rest of the first half. Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh’s 53-yard field-goal attempt, which would have tied the game, fell short of the crossbar with 6:25 to go in the second quarter.

The Giants will visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, while the Vikings return home to host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.

Notes, quotes

n The Vikings have not won a Monday night game since Oct. 5, 2009, when they defeated the Green Bay Packers 30-23.

n Marcus Sherels’ punt return was the third longest in Vikings history and the longest since Nate Burleson’s 91-yarder in 2004. Sherels also set a franchise single-game record with 119 yards on four returns, topping the club’s previous high of 107 yards set by Charlie West on Nov. 3, 1968.

n Kicker Blair Walsh’s 53-yard miss was his second unsuccessful field-goal try of the season and his first miss from 50 or more yards.

Quote to note

“It’s a tough situation he’s in — thrown in there, new terminology, having to take command of the huddle, which he did. ... I thought he was poised. It was just some balls got away from him, and then there were some balls we didn’t catch. We didn’t rally and bring it in for him.” — Wide receiver Greg Jennings, on quarterback Josh Freeman making a rocky debut with the team.

Strategy and personnel

What we learned about the Vikings

Quarterback Josh Freeman wasn’t as comfortable in his new team’s system as coach Leslie Frazier hoped he would be. Freeman completed just 20 of 53 pass attempts for 190 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Several of his passes were clearly off target as he and his receivers have yet to establish their timing.

The Vikings’ defense did its best to keep the team in the game, holding the Giants to 64 rushing yards and 193 passing yards. However, with the offense failing to put points on the board — the Vikings’ only score came on a punt return for a touchdown — the strong defensive effort went to waste.

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