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.
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.
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.
Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass and Josh Brown kicked three short field goals for the Rams, who moved up and down the field except in the red zone.
Bradford 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.
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.
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 seemed to hurt his right knee 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.
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.
NFL NOTEBOOK: Peyton Manning made it out to practice Monday.
He’s still nowhere close to throwing yet.
The four-time MVP was in good spirits when he made his first public appearance on the field since having neck surgery Sept. 8.
“Save a copy for me for my scrapbook,” Manning joked as he walked past the television cameras filming his arrival.
Those around Manning are not elaborating about his medical recovery.
Fox Sports, citing an unnamed source, reported Sunday that Manning traveled to Europe for stem-cell treatment before his latest surgery. The procedure has not yet been approved for use in the United States.
Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and Tom Condon, Manning’s agent, both declined to comment about the report following Sunday’s 27-19 loss to Cleveland. On Monday, Manning’s surgeons followed suit and Caldwell reiterated that the team would not provide any additional details about Manning’s progress.
“Just in terms of how we’ve handled things around here, we have not discussed anything of that nature in terms of medical situations or whatever it may be,” Caldwell said. “I think, also, in (the Sept. 8) release, we stated that we’re not going to discuss anything further, and that’s where I’m going to end it.”
Dr. Gowriharan Thaiyananthan, co-medical director of the Chapman Neurosurgical and Spine Institute in Orange, Calif., said it’s possible stem-cell treatment could speed up Manning’s recovery.
But it’s still unlikely, Thaiyananthan said, that the Colts will get Manning back sooner than the current timetable.
Manning is expected to miss at least two months after having an anterior fusion to treat a nerve injury that was causing weakness in his triceps. The procedure normally involves making an incision in the front of the neck, removing soft disk tissue between the vertebrae and fusing the bones together with a graft. The goal is to ease pain or address a disk problem.
Some doctors have said the recovery can take four months or longer, which could keep Manning out all season.
“He still has to recover from a cervical fusion, so I think that will be several months,” Thaiyananthan said. “I think the hope is that he can get back to playing sports.”
The stem-cell treatment does not use embryonic stem cells, which have caused so much consternation in the U.S., but rather cells from Manning’s own body. Doctors harvest the cells, expand them and then put them into the body.
It’s a procedure Thaiyananthan believes athletes may use more frequently in the future so they can avoid surgery. He’s not alone.
“The stem cells very quickly affect the inflammation and then they’re like a factory where they will regenerate right at the site,” said Kevin Dunworth, founder and CEO of SpineSmith in Austin, Texas.
Manning had a prior surgery May 23, but that did not fix the problem.
The Colts are hoping this latest procedure will.
“He’s convalescing from the surgery and that will take a little while yet, and then at some point, the doctors will bring him back and assess his situation,” Polian said on his weekly Monday night radio show. “We’re not sure when that will take place. He’s up and around, I can tell you that. But it is surgery, and there is a period of time where it takes its toll on you, and that’s wh ere he’s at right now.”
Teammates were happy to have Manning back on the field — even if it was only as a spectator.
When five-time Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne walked past reporters and saw Manning, he blurted out: “(He’s) walking it off.”
The injury ended Manning’s streak of 227 consecutive starts, including the playoffs, and without him, the Colts have not been the same.
They’re off to their first 0-2 start since 1998, Manning’s rookie season, and have scored only two touchdowns in eight quarters. Panicked fans are calling for changes, even replacing Kerry Collins who has started the first two games.
The Colts, however, are more worried about fixing the mistakes than making personnel changes.
“For the foreseeable future, it’s not going to be the high-efficiency offense that we’ve been used to,” Polian told listeners. “Kerry can’t do that, nobody can. You could probably bring back Johnny U. (Unitas) and you wouldn’t have that.”