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Returns help Giants pull away from Cards

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (Sept. 11, 2005) -- It was billed as a showdown between mentor and apprentice. Instead of Kurt Warner vs. Eli Manning, the New York Giants' special teams stole the show.

Manning bounced back from a poor first half to throw for two touchdowns in New York's 42-19 victory against the Arizona Cardinals. But the Giants' highest-scoring game in more than two seasons had as much to do with kick returns as it did Warner being upstaged by his former teammate.

Willie Ponder returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and Chad Morton, signed by the Giants a week and a half ago, returned a punt 52 yards for another as New York accomplished both types of returns in the same game for the first time in 50 years.

Tiki Barber and rookie Brandon Jacobs ran for touchdowns for the Giants, who scored 21 points in the third quarter to take command of the game.

The last time the Giants scored as many points was Dec. 22, 2002, when they defeated Indianapolis 44-27. The last time they returned a punt and kickoff return in the same game was on Oct. 30, 1955, against Washington.

Playing against the quarterback who helped guide him through his rookie season with the Giants in 2004, Manning finished 10-for-23 for 172 yards.

"I thought Eli looked poised," said Warner, who was 27-for-46 for 264 yards. "It was one of those games where, fortunately for him, he wasn't called upon to do a whole lot. They had a lot of big runs and he had a couple of screens that were probably his biggest plays. I think the game played out the they wanted it to. They took the pressure off him, which allowed him to continue to grow and get better."

Ponder's return was a crushing blow for the Cardinals, who had closed to within two points at 21-19 on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Warner to Larry Fitzgerald with 7:04 left in the third quarter. It came on a do-over -- the Cardinals were penalized for being offsides on a kickoff one play earlier, and rather than take Ponder's return to the Giants' 17, coach Tom Coughlin chose to take the penalty.

Ponder caught the second kick and darted down the left sideline to give the Giants a 28-19 lead.

"I didn't know they were offsides. I saw the flag when I was getting up," Ponder said. "But they said we were going to return it again and I figured, 'OK, this is an opportunity.' "

One of the key blocks was thrown by the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Jacobs, who had a busy day with 6 carries for 39 yards, one kickoff return for 33 yards and a 5-yard touchdown run early in the second half to give the Giants a 14-13 lead.

"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."

Arizona shut down Manning and the Giants offense for most of the first half after the second-year quarterback found tight end Jeremy Shockey over the middle for a 20-yard touchdown to cap an 80-yard drive in the first quarter.

The Cardinals led 13-7 at halftime on two field goals by Neil Rackers and an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Karlos Dansby, one of two interceptions he had in the game. That didn't last long as Manning found Plaxico Burress for 44 yards on the second play of the third quarter to the Arizona 5, and Jacobs ran in on the next play.

Later in the half, Manning connected with Burress for a 13-yard touchdown.

"We didn't play well at all in the first half aside from the first few minutes, but we were still only six points down at halftime," Manning said. "We felt if we got the ball first and went down and took the lead, it was a whole new ballgame."

Manning's performance allayed fears that his right elbow had any residual effects from a sprain suffered in a preseason game three weeks earlier that forced him to miss the Giants' final two preseason games. He said he felt no soreness in the elbow, but was dissatisfied with his play, particularly the two interceptions, even though both were tipped.

"It's good that we won, but the offense did not play well," Manning said. "My performance is not OK by me. I've got to play better. I can't turn the ball over like that and give points away."


Ponder had the Giants' most recent kickoff return for a touchdown, going 91 yards against Pittsburgh on Dec. 18, 2004. Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald had his first career 100-yard receiving game with 155 yards on 13 receptions. Giants WR Amani Toomer failed to catch a pass for the first time since Dec. 6, 1998, a span of 98 games. Right tackle Kareem McKenzie left the game in the second quarter with an ankle sprain and did not return. X-rays of the injury were negative. Arizona LB James Darling left the game in the third quarter with a knee bruise and did not return. Cardinals FB James Hodgins injured his ACL and will require surgery, Green said. Coughlin said Shockey suffered a minor ankle injury.

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