Vikings return three Eli picks for TDs in blowout win

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The Minnesota Vikings know how to make Eli Manning look bad, and this time they did it in front of big brother, Peyton.

Eli's Enemy


height=90 align=right alt="Eli Manning">


Only the Eagles have picked off Eli Manning more than the Vikings, but Minnesota does have eight interceptions against Manning in two games.
















With Peyton watching in the stands, Darren Sharper, Dwight Smith and Chad Greenway picked off passes by Eli and returned them for touchdowns in leading the Vikings to a 41-17 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.

"It's not necessarily that we have a good read on Eli," Sharper said. "I just think we have played well against him the last couple of times."

Well isn't the word. Great is. The Vikings (5-6) have picked off Manning eight times in the two games, scoring on four of those picks and coming close on another.

Sharper scored on a 20-yard return, Smith rumbled 93 yards and Greenway followed from 37 yards just a few plays later as the Vikings set a team single-game record for interception returns for touchdowns.

"When you throw four interceptions, it's never a good day," said Manning, who finished 21-of-49 for 273 yards. "They took advantage of it and scored on three of them. Every one has its own story."

Sharper's interception came after Manning and tight end Jeremy Shockey had a miscommunication on a blitz read. It seemed Sharper was the only one who knew where the pass was going. Smith's score came on a tipped pass and Greenway's TD came with Manning under pressure.

"I'm just disappointed," Manning said after the Giants (7-4) lost for the second time in three weeks.

Asked if it was tougher playing like that in front of his brother, Manning grimaced. "It doesn't make any difference," he said.

The NFL record for interceptions returned for touchdowns is four, set by Seattle against Kansas City on Nov. 4, 1984.

The Vikings nearly had a fourth return in winning consecutive games for the first time this season. Smith returned a second-quarter interception 19 yards to the Giants 8, setting up a touchdown run by Chester Taylor. Another pick late in the third quarter was overturned by a Giants' challenge.

"Whenever a quarterback makes a throw and gives up a touchdown by interception, it does make you a little gun-shy," Sharper said.

The Giants were off-balance from the start. Tarvaris Jackson threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice just 41 seconds after the opening kickoff. Ryan Longwell added two field goals.

The win helped the Vikings get back into the wild-card playoff chase and prevented the Giants from taking a two-game lead for the top wild-card berth.

"We're a footnote at 4-6," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "It's significant because now you have a chance to be in the mix."

Manning threw a meaningless 6-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress in the fourth quarter. Reuben Droughns scored on a 1-yard run for New York and Lawrence Tynes kicked a 48-yard field goal.

The loss dropped the Giants three games behind Dallas in the NFC East with five games to play. The Cowboys have the tiebreaker, having won both meetings this season.

"We're 7-4," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "We still control our situation and that's encouraging."

The Vikings also had a record-setting effort in their last game at Giants Stadium, setting an NFL mark by returning an interception, kickoff and punt for touchdowns in the same game.

"I did not, in my worst moment, ever think I would be standing here talking about history repeating itself, but it did," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

The interception return was the Vikings' weapon of choice this year.

Sharper, who intercepted three passes and scored on a 92-yard return in the 2005 game, gave the Vikings a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. Sharper fell to the ground making the catch, got up and ran untouched into the end zone.

"I got up and I was a little discombobulated," Sharper said. "I didn't know where to run. I'm glad I didn't go the wrong way like Jim Marshall did."

Smith, the Vikings' other safety, helped push the lead to 21-7 with the interception that set up the score by Taylor, who carried 31 times for 77 yards filling in for Adrian Peterson. Manning apparently didn't see Smith while throwing to Burress.

Trailing 24-7 at the half, the Giants got some momentum at the start of the third quarter with Tynes' long field goal.

However, Jackson, who was 10-of-12 for 129 yards, converted two third-down plays on a 14-play, nine-minute drive that resulted in a 26-yard field goal by Longwell.

Smith and Greenway then put the game out of reach with their touchdowns. Smith picked off a pass that was tipped by linebacker Ben Leber and went from one end of the stadium to the other on his 93-yard jaunt down the right sideline.

Manning completed a pass to start the next series before Greenway stepped in front of another pass to Shockey and scored 42 seconds later.

Still on the ground, Manning simply looked up in the air in disbelief.

Game notes
Giants CB Aaron Ross was in and out in the second half with a hamstring injury. ... Giants OT Kareem McKenzie and MLB Antonio Pierce sustained ankle injuries, the extent of which are not known. ... Vikings backup S Tank Williams (knee) and starting receiver Troy Williamson (blow to the head) left the game and will be evaluated Monday.