Very few autumn sporting events get as much hype and attention as the weekly contest that is Monday Night Football. This week, not so much. The October 21 game between the 0-6 New York Giants and the 1-4 Minnesota Vikings barely caused a peep on the week-end advertising radar. In the middle of the brouhaha about the Colts v Broncos game, a few mentions were made about this MNF game between two of the lowest performing teams of the season. In the end, the Giants got their first win of the season.
The Giants have struggled since losing opening day at AT&T Stadium, a venue where they have won since it opened five years ago. It’s been all downhill since then. Shutout by the Carolina Panthers, held to one touchdown by the Kansas City Chiefs, sacked seven times in one game and sitting at the bottom of the quarterback barrel with 17 interceptions in six games, Eli is having a tough year.
But at least he still has his team.
Transplanted Buccaneer quarterback Josh Freeman started for the Vikings Monday night. Freeman was benched by the Tampa Bay Bucs in Week 3 and cut in Week 4. By that Sunday, he signed with the Vikings and spent two weeks learning the playbook. He has not played a game since Week 2.
Now he’s learning on the fly as the walk-in first string for the struggling Vikings. Their one win came in London against the also-winless Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have since won two games, leaving the Vikings trailing behind as we finish up Week 7.
One of Freeman’s issues in Tampa was accuracy. He threw several passes too high and over and under-threw others. This could be put down to his lack of experience with the Vikings’ schemes. Two weeks in study and only four practices with the starting squad could also be to blame. Either way, the Vikings may want to look back to Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel before they toss a rusty Freeman onto the field again.
Historically speaking, Eli Manning faced the Vikings five times before Monday night, and held a record of 1-4 against them. Monday night did not go smoothly, and it was not one of the best performances the Giants are capable of, but they won. The point is to outdo the other team on the scoreboards.
Mission accomplished 23-7.
Although this game didn’t get a lot of build-up, the aftershocks are going to be felt far into the second half of the season. Post-game analysts shredded both teams on their mediocrity. Online, comments ranged from questioning the wisdom of starting Freeman, to the notion of the Giants taking a quarterback in the draft.
Fans of both teams espoused similar ideas but everyone seemed to agree on a few points. First, Adrian Petersen’s considerable talent is being wasted in Minnesota. After nearly breaking the rushing record last season, Petersen has only gained 511 yards on 115 carries. He has five rushing touchdowns, but is only averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He had the fourth worst first half of his career against the Giants Monday, rushing for only nine yards on eight carries.
Second point of agreement, Christian Ponder has been under-appreciated in Minnesota, both by the higher-ups and the fans. Ponder has completed 59 of 100 passes for 691 yards. He has two touchdowns and has been sacked 10 times for a total loss of 44 yards. Ponder was injured early in the season, giving Matt Cassel a chance to step up, but he has only completed 48 of 69 for 489 yards. On four sacks he has lost 26 yards. Coach Leslie Frazier admitted he considered pulling Freeman in favor of Ponder in the second half, but decided against it because the score was so close he trusted Freeman to close the gap.
His decision must be weighing heavily upon him after the fact. Monday night Freeman went 20 of 53 for 290 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Collective agreement pins his lack of performance on his lack of playing time this season, and not nearly enough time learning the Viking routes.
The Giants now have a chance to turn their season around. Even if they manage to win every game from this point on, the flaws in their system have been dramatically exposed. Serious work needs to be done to correct these issues to bring the team back to where they have been with Manning and Coach Tom Coughlin at the helm. Now is the time to take a deep breath and move forward. This team knows how to win. They know what it feels like to be on top of the league, to be considered serious contenders.
The Vikings have also experienced success in the past, but this season’s group is searching for identity and have not yet come together to create a consistently focused team that can and does win. Halfway through the season, the time has come to pinpoint the problems and get them fixed.
Despite past success, both teams now face the prospect of playing for pride and draft picks. Statistically speaking this was the worst Monday Night Football match-up since the program debuted in 1970. The Giants and the Vikings did not start this season expecting to be the least interesting Monday Night game of the year. Nor did they expect to be at the bottom of their divisions and the league.
All that remains for the Giants and the Vikings is to evaluate their personnel and game strategy and make changes where needed. Freeman may come along and reclaim his earlier glory or he may not. He has the rest of the season to do so. Petersen needs to be utilized to his full potential or traded away to make room for rebuilding. Manning has what it takes to be MVP of the Super Bowl, twice. Hicks, Cruz and the defensive line need to get it together and start playing like a team again. It is past time for both teams to start playing like they want to matter to the league and to their fans.
Written by: Brandi Tasby