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Freeman takes over Vikings as Giants search for first win
(SportsNetwork.com) - If the winless New York Giants are ever going to get it done, this is probably the week.
The hapless Minnesota Vikings will arrive in North Jersey for "Monday Night Football" planning to start their third quarterback of the season in talented but enigmatic ex-Tampa Bay starter Josh Freeman.
Unless Freeman can also line up as a defensive back, defensive tackle and linebacker, however, it may not matter.
The woeful Minnesota defense is giving up 31.6 points per game (30th in the NFL), 308 passing yards per contest (29th) along with 418 total yards a game (31st), and will be without its best player, safety Harrison Smith, who is sidelined with a toe injury.
Freeman joined the Vikings last week after signing as a free agent following his acrimonious departure from Tampa Bay earlier in the month.
"He has adapted to our system," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday. "I like his work ethic. He has done enough for us to say that he is ready."
Christian Ponder started the first three games for the Vikings -- all losses -- and suffered a rib injury in a Week 3 setback to Cleveland. Matt Cassel then opened the next two games under center and guided the Vikings to their lone win of the season in London against Pittsburgh, but was not as successful in last week's 35-10 loss to Carolina.
Cassel completed 32-of-44 passes for 241 yards, one touchdown and two picks against the Panthers.
Adrian Peterson, playing less than 48 hours after the death of one of his children, ended with 62 yards on 10 carries and three catches for 21 yards.
Enter Freeman, the 2009 first-round pick who had his share of ups and downs with the Buccaneers.
The Kansas State product began this season as the Tampa Bay starter, but struggled in the club's first three games. He completed just 45.7 percent of his passes for 571 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions before being benched in favor of rookie Mike Glennon.
Freeman's release in early October came one day after Sports Illustrated reported that he had been fined twice by the Buccaneers in the past month for conduct detrimental to the team. One was for an unauthorized interview with ESPN and the other for skipping at least one team meeting.
The 25-year-old Freeman compiled a 24-35 record over his four-plus seasons as Tampa Bay's starter, throwing for 13,534 yards and 80 touchdowns with 66 interceptions since being drafted 17th overall back in 2009.
The Giants latest loss came back on Oct. 10, a 27-21 Thursday night setback in Chicago.
Eli Manning was 14-of-26 for 239 yards and a touchdown, but tossed three more interceptions to add to his NFL-leading total of 15.
Filling in for injured running back David Wilson, who remains out with a neck injury, Brandon Jacobs ran for 106 yards and two scores on 22 carries in defeat.
"We're all sick of losing, but we put ourselves in this position. There is only one way to get out of it," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said.
The Vikings lead the all-time series between the two clubs with a 14-11 mark, including a 8-6 record ad the visitor.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Freeman has the physical skills to succeed and is a huge upgrade over both Ponder, who will be the backup this week, and Cassel. This is far from a slam dunk for the Vikings, however. Freeman needs to prove the challenges to his work ethic as well as his leadership skills in Tampa were truly the manifestations of a deranged coach on a power trip.
"The underlying questions I've been getting from a lot of people: 'Do I have a chip on my shoulder?' I'm sure I do," Freeman said. "But I think it's more deeply rooted than just the past six months, 12 months."
Despite any flaws, Freeman has already excelled at the NFL level. In 2010, he threw 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. Last year, he tossed for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns.
"I like the things he's done in his career, along with what he's done since he arrived here with our football team, the time he put in, how well he's adapted to our system," Frazier said. "He's done enough for us to say we want to give him this opportunity, which is something we had in mind when we acquired him. I think now is the time."
Freeman should be excited over the fact he will likely see plenty of eight-man boxes designed to stop Peterson coupled with a solid receiving corps led by veteran Greg Jennings and emerging tight end Kyle Rudolph.
"Any time you step into a situation where you're the new guy, there's always kind of an awkward getting-to-know-you phase," Freeman said. "But I think that goes back to the character of this organization just from top to bottom -- a lot of quality people that are dedicated to winning first and foremost. So it's been a smooth adjustment."
The Giants are off to their worst start since they opened the 1976 season with nine straight losses thanks in large part to their inability to take care of the football.
The one thing they can do, though, is throw it outside the numbers. Star receiver Victor Cruz has 14 catches for 261 yards and two TDs in his past two "MNF" games, while Hakeem Nicks had seven catches for 96 yards in his last meeting against the Vikings. Also up-and-comer Reuben Randle has nine catches for 171 yards and three TDs over his last two contests.
They'll be facing a banged-up Vikings secondary which struggles mightily when at full strength. If Manning can just stay away from the game-changing miscue, they're will be plenty of opportunities for the New York offense.
"It's not fun playing this game and losing and not feeling like you're helping your team," Manning said. "But it's not going to change the way I treat each day or treat each practice and treat the games. I'm going to compete. I'm going to work hard and do whatever I can do to try to put our team in a situation to win."
Jacobs' emergence will continue to help although the 265-pounder is dealing with a sore hamstring so New York brought in Peyton Hillis this week.
Minnesota's lack of a consistent pass rush, along with injuries to Smith and rookie corner Xavier Rhodes will only make passing the football easier for Manning and the Giants.
It's always dangerous to expect an 0-6 team to win but this is one matchup where you can see "Big Blue" finally taking care of the football and making enough big plays down the field against one of the NFL's worst secondaries.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 33, Vikings 24
10/18 13:25:56 ET