The Giants' first home Monday night game in eight years was one to celebrate.
Opportunistic on both offense and defense, the Giants took charge with two second quarter touchdowns and earned a 28-16 victory over the St. Louis Rams in MetLife Stadium that raised their record to 1-1.
"The importance (of the victory) is obviously watching everybody else (in the NFC East) play this weekend," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "To be 1-1, to have Dallas 1-1, to have Philadelphia 1-1, to have Washington in the lead at 2-0, it was important for us to keep the pace."
"We started out 0-1 and we definitely didn't want to go 0-2," said defensive end Justin Tuck, who missed the loss last week in Washington with an injury. "Tonight's win was important."
Eli Manning threw touchdown passes to Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon, Brandon Jacobs rushed for a score and Michael Boley picked up a fumble and returned it 65 yards for another touchdown.
This was the first time the Giants hosted a Monday night game since Sept. 15, 2003, when they lost to the Dallas Cowboys in overtime, 35-32. It was their first home Monday night victory since Oct. 18, 1999, when they beat Dallas, 13-10.
St. Louis, which fell to 0-2, scored on a touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Danario Alexander and three Josh Brown field goals. The Rams traveled inside the Giants' 20-yard line four times, but settled for field goals on three occasions.
"One of our themes this week was red zone defense," Boley said. "We didn't do a good job of that last week. So coming into this week that was a big focus for us to get that corrected. We did a lot better job down there. "
Alexander's 19-yard touchdown catch pulled the Rams to within 28-16 with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter. On third-and-10, Alexander got behind cornerback Michael Coe, who was playing in place of Aaron Ross, and jumped high to catch Bradford's pass on the left side of the end zone.
The score capped a 13-play, 72-yard drive that included Bradford passes to Mike Sims-Walker of 15 yards on third-and-seven and 11 yards on fourth-and six. The second of those receptions gave the Rams a first down at the Giants' 19. Bradford unsuccessfully threw twice to Alexander before the duo hooked up for the touchdown on the third try.
Jacobs' nine-yard touchdown run had increased the Giants' lead to 28-9 with 6:19 remaining in the quarter. On first-and-goal, Jacobs took a handoff and chugged through the left side for the 50th rushing touchdown of his career.
The Giants drove 81 yards in 10 plays and were aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty on Ben Leber and a 17-yard pass interference penalty on Justin King.
Facing a third-and-18 on the St. Louis 32, Manning flipped a screen pass to Ahmad Bradshaw, who zipped through the defense for a 23-yard gain. Jacobs scored on the next play.
"I turned around and I had a lot of blockers in front of me on the screen," Bradshaw said. "I think they just opened up. Everybody blocked everything up and I was patient about it. (David) Baas made a great block and I was able shoot through."
The Giants surrendered 232 yards but no touchdowns in a first half that ended with them holding a 21-6 lead.
Hixon's acrobatic 22-yard touchdown reception with only 21 seconds remaining in the second quarter increased their lead to 15 points. On first down, Hixon ran down the center of the field, shadowed by safety Craig Dahl, a former Giant. Manning lofted a pass that caromed into the air. Hixon, unable to free his left arm, juggled and then secured the ball with his right arm as he fell to the ground in the end zone. After waiting to ensure that Hixon maintained possession, the officials signaled touchdown.
The touchdown was Hixon's first since Dec. 13, 2009, when he scored on a 61-yard Manning pass against Philadelphia. Hixon missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing knee surgery.
"Great reception and great concentration by him," Manning said. "We had a in and pump route on and the safety bit on the in, but we hit him a little bit on the end. Those are throws that you don't make all the time but it was a great catch by him. It was great concentration and a great catch at that moment."
"It felt awesome," Hixon said of the score. "It's something that we have been working on all week. Coach (Kevin) Gilbride (the offensive coordinator) and I went into a lot more detail and he felt it would be a really good play against them. We went out and Eli threw a good ball and we executed. I saw the ball the whole time and it never works out the way you practice. It ended being on the back shoulder and I just reached back and tried to make a play on it."
The score concluded an 86-yard drive that was completed in eight plays and 2:37. Manning's seven-yard pass to Hixon enabled the Giants to convert a third down for the first time in the game. On the next play, Manning threw a 31-yard pass to Mario Manningham, who stumbled as he gained control of the ball or he might have scored. The point became moot when, on the first snap after a Giants timeout, Hixon secured the ball in the end zone.
"The drive before the half, obviously, was critical," Coughlin said.
"That was a big drive," Manning said. "We really hadn't got much of a rhythm and we only had one good drive during the game. All of a sudden we hit a couple plays, although it didn't start well with (a) holding call, but we overcame that. They had some penalties and we hit Manningham on the sidelines for a big chunk of change and that got us into scoring position and then Hixon with a good catch hanging with that ball. That was a big momentum changer right there and extended the lead and getting a touchdown in that situation."
Boley's 65-yard fumble return increased the Giants' lead to 14-6 with 10:58 remaining in the second quarter.
The Rams faced a third-and-eight from the Giants' 25-yard line when Bradford threw a quick pass to the left for Cadillac Williams, who couldn't catch it and made no attempt to go after the ball, thinking it was an incompletion. But Boley alertly realized it was not a pass but a lateral, because the ball landed behind the line of scrimmage. He scooped it up and sprinted down the right sideline, escorted by rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams.
"I wasn't thinking it was a lateral at first," Boley said. "But one of the things we talk about in practice is whenever the ball hits the turf is to pick it up and leave no doubt and always scoop and score. Right before I picked it up I didn't hear a whistle so I am just thinking score."
"Boley's play is tremendous," Tuck said. "I've seen that same thing happen a lot of times where guys just leave the ball there and think it's an incomplete pass. I think that happened last year, or two years ago. We weren't prepared that game. That could have been another pitch away from a game-changing situation. Tonight, Boley saw it. He always prides himself on how fast he is; he got a chance to show it off tonight."
Boley's score was the Giants' first defensive touchdown since Dec. 21, 2009, when Terrell Thomas returned an interception 14 yards for a score. It was the Giants' first touchdown on a fumble return since Sept. 13, 2009, when Osi Umenyoira brought one back 37 yards against San Francisco.
The Giants led at the end of the first quarter, 7-6, thanks to a Nicks touchdown that was bookended by two Brown field goals.
Brown opened the scoring with a 21-yard field goal at the end of St. Louis' first possession following an interception of a Manning pass. The three-pointer was a triumph for the Giants' defense, which kept the Rams out of the end zone after the visitors had a first down at the one. Bradford threw a pair of incompletions and Williams lost a yard running to the left side.
The Giants punted the ball on their next possession, bur rookie returner Greg Salas muffed the ball, which was pushed forward by Tyler Sash and recovered at the Rams' 38 by Dave Tollefson.
Coughlin elected to go for a first down on fourth-and-four from the 32. Manning threw to the left side for Nicks, who drew a 23-yard pass interference penalty on Bradley Fletcher, giving the Giants a first down at the nine. Jacobs gained six yards up the middle before Manning fired a pass to the left side of the end zone that Nicks caught for the Giants' first aerial touchdown of the season.
St. Louis responded with a 67-yard drive that ended with Brown's 25-yard field goal.
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