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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Steve Spagnuolo and the St. Louis Rams came to the Meadowlands bearing gifts and the New York Giants readily accepted them.
Eli Manning threw two touchdown passes and linebacker Michael Boley scored on a 65-yard fumble return to lead New York to a 28-16 victory over the mistake-prone Rams on Monday night in the first matchup between Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Spagnuolo, his former defensive coordinator.
“It seemed when they gave us a little opening, we jumped in there and got points and scored touchdowns and didn’t settle for field goals,” said Manning, who completed 18 of 29 passes for 200 yards and one interception.
This one was ugly with mistakes by the Rams (0-2) giving New York (1-1) a crucial win after a disappointing loss to Washington in the season opener.
“It’s a little bit of the same story as last week, we shot ourselves in the foot,” said Spagnuolo, who kept the media waiting 25 minutes after the game before talking. “It’s difficult enough to beat any football team in this league without doing that, when you kind of beat yourself.”
All four of New York’s touchdowns resulted directly from St. Louis mistakes.
Manning hit Hakeem Nicks with a 3-yard TD pass after a muffed punt and Domenik Hixon made a spectacular juggling grab on a 22-yard score after a busted coverage late in the first half. Boley TD came on the lateral and New York’s final score was set up by a third down pass interference call early in the second half.
Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass and Josh Brown kicked three short field goals for the Rams, who moved up and down the field, gaining 367 yards. The one area they could not move was in the red zone.
“The thing I liked about what we did tonight was we showed resiliency,” said Giants Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck, who had 1½ sacks in his first game of the season after sitting out the opener with a neck injury. “In a lot of those situations, if they get touchdowns, that score is a lot different.”
Bradford, who was 22 of 46 for 331 yards, might have made the biggest mistakes, throwing a pass backward and seeing Boley run it into the end zone.
It was that kind of night for the Rams.
The Rams killed themselves in the red zone. They settled for three short field goals after drives stalled inside the Giants 10, with the first coming after they got a first-and-goal at the 1 following a 68-yard catch and run by Danario Alexander, who had three catches for 122 yards.
New York built a 21-6 halftime lead and was never threatened again.
After Manning threw an interception deep in Rams’ territory on the opening drive, the Giants looked lost for a couple of minutes, until the Rams woke them up with their first big mistake.
It resulted because St. Louis was without regular punt returner Danny Amendola.
Greg Salas took his place and muffed Steve Weatherford’s punt with Dave Tollefson recovering at the 38.
Nicks, who was questionable for the game with a bruised knee, put New York ahead with the 3-yard TD catch. The score came after New York got a first down at the Rams’ 9 after Bradley Fletcher was called for pass interference against Nicks.
A 25-yard field goal by Brown closed the gap to 7-6 later in the quarter, and the Rams seemed to be in position to take the lead early in the second quarter when Bradford moved them to the Giants 27.
However on third-and-8, Bradford tried to throw a halfback screen to Williams who was lined up as a receiver. The pass was thrown backward, making it a lateral and Boley picked up the fumble and ran 65 yards for a touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
“It was a big momentum lift,” Boley said after his first career regular-season NFL touchdown. “Anytime the defense scores, it’s a bonus. Not only does the defensive feed of it but it gives the offense some momentum as well. It looked like he just dropped it. It was a pretty good throw. He just missed it. Scoop and score. We work on that drill a couple of times each week. It paid off.”
The margin grew to 21-6 just before halftime when cornerback Al Harris let Mario Manningham run past him on a first-and-10 from the Giants 47 and Manning hit him in stride for a 31-yard gain.
Hixon made a one-handed catch of Manning’s pass — juggling the ball three times with his right hand — for a 22-yard touchdown. He hurt his calf on the play and barely played in the second half. He missed all last season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in June.
“It happened so fast, I don’t know if it him in arm or hit me in the shoulder,” Hixon said. “Until I see the replay, I won’t be able to tell you. At the end of the day we always say, catch the ball. I didn’t want to get fined by the receivers for not catching it.”
A 17-yard pass interference penalty against Justin King kept the Giants’ opening drive in the second half alive and Jacobs scored one play after Manning got New York a first down with a 23-yard screen pass to Ahmad Bradshaw.
Bradford closed the scoring with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Alexander late in the third quarter.