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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It came against a defense that looked like anything but a Bill Belichick defense.
But Eli Manning and the New York Giants' offense emerged from Thursday night's 20-17 victory over the New England Patriots almost giddy.
After the Giants' starters played poorly in the all-important third preseason game, against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, Manning & Co. got exactly what they needed against the Patriots.
The Giants' starters drove 86 yards and scored on the game-opening drive. All felt good again in Giants land.
"We needed that," said Ahmad Bradshaw, who was practically beaming after the game. "It gives us a lot of confidence."
In the last dress rehearsal before the Sept. 12 season opener against Carolina, the Giants needed to see some evidence that they can move the ball.
|Kevin Boss' touchdown capped an 86-yard drive to open the game.|
Manning, who had been rusty after suffering his unforgettable head laceration against Rex Ryan's Jets in the preseason opener, went 7-for-9 for 91 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kevin Boss. Hitting Belichick's defense with a good mix of run and pass, Manning needed nine plays before finding the end zone.
It was the type of drive that would make Janet Jackson proud. The Giants had control.
Bradshaw, who can hardly wait to begin the season in his new starting role, took the first handoff and gained 11 yards off the right guard. He ran for another 7 yards on his next carry, toward the left.
Even without center Shaun O'Hara, who was out with an ankle/Achilles injury, the Giants' running game showed some life.
"I think things are going to be excellent," Bradshaw said of the running game, which stalled badly last season. "I think it is going to be a huge year for us."
On the third play, Manning went play-action and hit Boss for a 22-yard gain on his first pass. Then Manning tried to establish a rapport with Hakeem Nicks, targeting the second-year receiver three straight times.
After a short dump-off pass to Bradshaw for 17 yards, the Giants were at the New England 15-yard line. Too many times last season, the Giants' offense sputtered once in the red zone.
But on a second-and-8 at the Patriots' 13, Manning lined up in the shotgun and hit Boss for a short pass for the touchdown.
"It is good to find that rhythm," Manning said. "You are running the ball, throwing it, you are in sync, in good rhythm and in control of what is going on, and that is what we felt like that first drive."
The only flaw on that first drive was rookie Matt Dodge's botched hold on the failed extra point attempt.
Special teams, specifically coverage, has been a headache at times for Tom Coughlin in the preseason. But at least the offense gave the coach one thing not to worry about Thursday.
"It was a good drive, a good drive," Coughlin said of the opener. "Well coordinated, good football, good execution, good performance. We were pleased with that drive."
The Giants were feeling so good that offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride opened his bag of tricks.
The Giants started their second and last drive with the starters with an end-around to Nicks, who gained 15 yards. And when they got to midfield, the Giants tried a flea flicker with Brandon Jacobs tossing the ball back to Manning. The Patriots weren't fooled, and when Manning tried to run away from pressure, he fumbled the ball. With the ball out in the open and two Patriots converging, Manning illegally batted the ball forward and out of bounds.
It was an ugly play that, with Manning avoiding injury, didn't turn disastrous. The Giants eventually had to punt, but they already had gotten what they desperately needed -- a touchdown from the starting offense and a jolt of much-needed confidence.
"Our goal as the first group was to get a touchdown," Manning said. "We have had some field goals and we have moved the ball well at times during the preseason, but we hadn't gotten a touchdown in that first group. It was important to go in there and get a touchdown drive.
"It was nice."Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter. More from ESPNNewYork.com »