By Tom Canavan
AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — When the NFL was looking for a Monday night game in the seventh week of the season, the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants seemed a natural.
The Vikings were coming off a surprising 10-6 record and a playoff berth in 2012. They featured Adrian Peterson, who shocked the league coming back from major knee surgery to gain 2,097 yards rushing and become league MVP.
While the Giants missed the postseason with a 9-7 mark, they had two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, an explosive offense and defense that was going to make plays with Jason Pierre-Paul leading the way.
The script didn’t go according to plan for the nationally televised game at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants (0-6) and Vikings (1-4) have been two of the biggest disappointments this season. New York is three losses away from tying its worst start, and Minnesota is heading in the wrong direction, too.
The story has been the same for both teams. They have had chances to win and failed to capitalize. The Vikings have lost two games in the final minute, and the Giants have been in position in the final half in five of their six losses.
“It’s not what I would have thought to start to go into this game, obviously, for us or them,” said Manning, who has thrown eight of his league-high 15 interceptions in the fourth quarter. “I think they’re obviously a very talented team and have a lot of good players. It’s tough sometimes to get wins and each game is a battle and you have to play quality football to win in the NFL. And if you make mistakes and you don’t play up to your ability, you’re not going to win football games, and I think that’s something that’s happened with both teams.”
The Vikings will continue their game of musical chairs with their quarterbacks. Bucs castoff Josh Freeman will replace Matt Cassel as the starter, making him the team’s third quarterback in four games. Christian Ponder started the first three until a rib injury put Cassel into the job.
“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,” coach Leslie Frazier said of Freeman. “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.”
Neither team is playing well on defense, with both ranking in the lower third. New York has given up a league-high 209 points. Minnesota ranks No. 31 in total defense, with its pass defense at No. 29, which plays into the Giants’ strength.
Five things to look for in this game that figures to not be one of ESPN’s top Monday night draws this season:
THE RUNNING GAME: While Brandon Jacobs ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears, he also tweaked a hamstring. Watch him closely because, if he gets hurt again, New York is going to have to rely on rookie Michael Cox and two recently signed players, John Conner and Peyton Hillis. Peterson ran for 62 yards on 10 carries against the Panthers, his lowest output since Week 2 of last season. He played just two days after his 2-year-old son was killed in an alleged case of child abuse in South Dakota. However, his 6.2 average was his best this season.
WHERE’S THE PASS RUSH: The Giants and Vikings had been two of the league’s best teams in pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Not this year. The Giants have five sacks in six games, with Mathias Kiwanuka leading the way with 1 1/2. Jason Pierre-Paul has one sack as he tries to find himself after back surgery in June. Minnesota isn’t much better with 10 sacks, the fourth fewest in the league. The Vikings were tied for fifth in the NFL in 2012 and tied for first in the NFL in 2011.
THIRD DOWNS: The Giants and Vikings have both struggled getting off the field on third down. Minnesota has allowed opponents to convert on 33 of 67 chances, or 49.3 percent, the second worst in the league. Giants opponents have converted on 44 of 90 attempts, or 48.9 percent, third worst in the league.
GIANTS RECEIVERS: The Vikings have had only two interceptions by a defensive back, so this could be a big week for Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle if the offensive line gives Manning some time. Cruz is tied for 13th in the league with 35 catches for 541 yards and four touchdowns. Nicks has 25 receptions for 442 yards. Randle has 20 for 333 yards and three TDs, with the touchdowns in the last two games.
FREEMAN FACTOR: Freeman was signed by Minnesota earlier this month after being released by the Buccaneers. He has not played in a while and one has to wonder about his confidence level after completing only 45.7 percent of his passes with Tampa Bay. His quarterback rating of 59.3 is next to last, leading only Blaine Gabbert of Jacksonville. The player above him is Manning, who has a rating of 64.0. Expect the Vikings to throw a big dose of Peterson at the Giants.