EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Everywhere Giants quarterback Eli Manning looked receivers were running free. Victor Cruz over the middle vs. Dimitri Patterson. Domenik Hixon on the left vs. Sheldon Brown. Rueben Randle on the right vs. Buster Skrine.
No. 1 cornerback Joe Haden returns from a four-game suspension today, but he might not be enough to fix the mess the Browns’ secondary has become.
“I have no idea. I have no idea,” safety T.J. Ward said when asked what the issue was. “It’s even worse when you don’t know what it is.”
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Manning completed 25 of 37 passes for 259 yards, three touchdowns, an interception and a 103.3 rating Sunday in the Giants’ 41-27 win. He completed six balls to Randle for 82 yards and five to Hixon for 55.
He saved his best for Cruz, who caught five for 50, including three touchdowns. He beat a different cornerback each time.
“He’s a talented guy and he’s shown up against some of the best,” said safety Usama Young, who got the interception on a deep ball poked away by Brown. “Yeah, he had a good day. He got in the end zone a few times on us.”
Cruz’s first score — followed by his first salsa dance — was a 3-yarder on an out against Skrine. It completed a nightmarish drive for Skrine, who gave up three completions to Randle and was called for pass interference in a four-snap stretch.
“They were coming after me and I knew it. Everybody saw it,” Skrine said. “You just have to battle. He made some great throws to where I couldn’t get them no matter how tight my coverage was. He’s just a good quarterback.”
“Once you have a rhythm going and you can see that you are knocking down the confidence of a DB, you have to keep going at him,” Randle said.
Skrine rebounded to break up three passes, but he was also called for another pass interference that set up a half-ending field goal. He wasn’t alone in the poor coverage.
Patterson was about 15 yards away when Cruz caught a 10-yarder to give the Giants their first lead at 24-17. Cruz started in the slot and cut to the corner, leaving Patterson looking lost.
Patterson left the field on a cart at the start of the second half with a left ankle injury. He left the locker room on crutches and in a boot.
“My speech to these guys has always been, you have to stay on the field,” Brown said. “A lot of people get tagged with, ‘he’s injury-prone.’ I don’t know. But I do know the teams that are successful in this league, nine times out of 10 they don’t ask their backups to play much.”
Skrine, who started the game as the nickelback, moved into the base defense for Patterson. Rookie Trevin Wade played in the nickel and was burned for a 28-yard Cruz touchdown in the third quarter.
“I think some of the miscommunication stuff during the course of the game, people just weren’t playing sound and trying to do other people’s jobs,” said Brown, who had a breakdown with Young that allowed a 36-yard completion.
“They’re going to make plays, they’re going to catch the ball. They’re good,” said Young, who tied a career high with 10 tackles. “You’ve got to continue to make them work for every yard. At times, we didn’t do that. And they took advantage of the mistakes that we made. That’s what good teams do.”
The Browns entered Sunday night ranked 26th against the pass, allowing 280.6 yards a game. They finished last year ranked second, allowing 184.9.
The run defense was just as bad Sunday. Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 200 yards on 30 carries, and the Giants totaled 243 on 34 rushes, a 7.1 average. The majority of the yards — 159 — came in the second half with middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson out with a concussion.
“DQ is the middle of our defense, but we had opportunities to get off the field and we should have,” Ward said. “It just seemed like gaps were opening up and Bradshaw was finding creases. I don’t know how. I’ve got to go back and watch the film. It seemed like I had a fullback or a guard up on me on the second level.”
Ward wasn’t his usual self, playing his first game with a cast on his surgically repaired thumb.
“I couldn’t grab anything, it was uncomfortable,” he said. “I should have made the tackles that I missed. One time I didn’t even try, it was so late in the game I just went for the strip. It was more of trying to shed guys and get guys away from you knowing I couldn’t bend my wrist and everything. It was a little difficult.”
Haden’s return will provide a boost, but it may not be enough. Skrine has struggled in the spotlight, Brown is getting older and Patterson is hurt.
“To have him back, hopefully that helps out,” Young said.
“I won’t go into it,” Ward said. “You play with the players on the field and that’s who’s got to get the job done.”