EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—What may have started out as an idle boast turned into a piece of history for the New York Giants.
That helped them avoid a repeat of some recent misfortune.
“Chad told me we were both going to score today,” said wide receiver Willie Ponder, after he and teammate Chad Morton became the first Giants in 50 years to return a kickoff and punt for touchdowns in the same game. The special teams play carried New York to a 42-19 season-opening win over Arizona on Sunday.
Ponder’s 95-yard kickoff return—his second in a little over two seasons of spot duty with the Giants—and Morton’s 52-yard punt return highlighted a second half in which the Giants outscored the Cardinals 35-6 after trailing 13-7 at halftime.
Last season, New York lost 17-14 to the Cardinals. In that game, the Giants had two long scoring drives in the first half and were muffled the rest of the way.
On Sunday, Eli Manning (10-for-23, 172 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) led them on an 80-yard drive and New York took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on his 20-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey. But the quarterback was ineffective for the rest of the half.
Aided by an improved second-half performance by Manning and by a defense that allowed the Cardinals 31 yards rushing in the game, the Giants didn’t fall into the same trap.
“We reiterated having been in that situation a year ago, and how they came out and played,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “We talked about the fact that we were really fortunate for the score to be what it was. So we tried to turn it into a positive and we put a lot of emphasis on the fact that we were going to return the kickoff (in the second half).”
Manning hit Plaxico Burress for 44 yards on the second play of the second half, and running back Brandon Jacobs scored from 5 yards out two plays later to give the Giants a 14-13 lead. On Arizona’s next play, safety Gibril Wilson intercepted Kurt Warner to set up a 21-yard scoring run by Tiki Barber.
“It was a tale of two types of games,” Arizona coach Dennis Green said. “One part of the game was 13-7 at halftime, the second was one with them making play after play, big plays after big plays and us making no big plays, a lot of bad plays and allowing them to get momentum.”
Ponder’s return was a huge momentum-killer for the Cardinals. Warner—who finished 27-of-46 for 264 yards and one touchdown against the team he played for last season—had just thrown a 1-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald with 7:04 left in the third quarter. After the unsuccessful 2-point conversion the Cardinals trailed 21-19.
On the kickoff, Arizona was penalized for being offsides as Ponder fielded the ball four yards deep in the end zone and got out to the 17. Coughlin chose to accept the penalty, and Ponder took the re-kick and darted down the left sideline, aided by a key block from Jacobs.
“On the first one I missed the guy,” Jacobs said. “He ran right by my face, and that was my fault. But I redeemed myself on the second one and we took it to the house.”
Morton’s return came with the Giants ahead 35-19 with 8:25 left. Ponder was on the sideline loosening up when he heard a roar and looked up at the scoreboard screen to see Morton racing downfield with Scott Player’s punt.
“We talked about getting one toward the end when the other team starts getting tired,” said Morton, a recent Giants signee who led the AFC in return yardage in 2002 while with the New York Jets. “We talked about it at halftime; we said, ‘Let’s be the first team on opening day to score a kickoff and punt return.’ I don’t think it has happened too many times before.”
Second-year Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald had his first 100-yard receiving game with 13 catches for 155 yards. In contrast, Giants WR Amani Toomer failed to catch a pass for the first time since Dec. 6, 1998, a span of 98 games. … Giants TE Jeremy Shockey and T Kareem McKenzie sprained ankles, Coughlin said. McKenzie left the game in the second quarter and didn’t return. X-rays were negative. … Arizona LB James Darling left the game in the third quarter with a knee bruise and didn’t return. … Green said Cardinals FB James Hodgins injured a knee ligament and will need surgery.