The New York Giants have a running game again, and it's called Thunder and Lightning.
Tiki Barber ran for career-best 144 yards and two touchdowns, including a 78-yarder, and Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne ran for 78 yards and a TD as the Giants beat the Arizona Cardinals 21-16 on Sunday. The game was delayed 23 minutes in the third quarter by lightning and a thunderstorm.
The Giants' defense also stepped up, intercepting Jake Plummer three times and recovering his fumble deep in New York territory. Arizona was limited to 43 yards rushing, with Plummer getting a team-high 18.
Plummer did throw touchdown passes of 9 and 25 yards to David Boston in the final 1:55, but that only made the score respectable.
Neither team looked particularly good in the season opener that pitted two coaches under fire, but New York made far fewer mistakes.
The Giants and Jim Fassel have missed the playoffs the last two years, while Vin Tobin has taken the Cardinals to the playoffs only once in his four seasons.
The Giants had an advantage on Sunday because the Cardinals' defensive line was so banged up.
Simeon Rice is unsigned, and fellow defensive end Andre Wadsworth is still unable to play following knee surgery. Backup defensive end Thomas Burke is also sidelined with a knee injury.
The Giants, whose 88.3 yard rushing average last season was their worst since 1953, exploited Arizona's problem by rushing 41 times for 223 yards.
Barber, who last week referred to the backfield combination as thunder and lightning, made two great plays to break the game open in the first half.
The fourth-year running back gained 116 yards on eight carries in the first half and he ran almost as far on his 10-yard touchdown run as he did on his 78-yarder, which was the fourth-longest run in team history.
The 10-yarder started as a sweep to the right, and Barber realized when he got near the sideline there was nothing there. So he changed directions, avoided two Cardinals and circled back to the left, diving into the corner of the end zone at the pylon, capping a 10-play, 66-yard drive that gave New York a 7-0 lead on the final play of the first quarter.
The 78-yard run was much more direct. Barber went through a hole between the right tackle and guard, avoided a diving tackle by safety Pat Tillman and then outraced cornerbacks Tom Knight and Aeneas Williams to the end zone.
Plummer, who finished 28-of-49 for 318 yards, had a couple of chances to get the Cardinals back in the game, but he couldn't come up with the big play. He drove Arizona from its 29 to the New York 13 right after Barber's second touchdown, but he fumbled the snap on a fourth-and-1 sneak at the New York 13, and linebacker Mike Barrow recovered.
Plummer, who threw 24 interceptions last year, was intercepted by Emmanuel McDaniel twice late in the second quarter and once by safety Shaun Williams at the Giants 20 midway through the third.
A 32-yard field goal by Cary Blanchard made it 14-3 on the final play of the third quarter, but the Giants iced the game with a 15-play, 82-yard drive that took up the opening 7:32 of the fourth quarter. Dayne crashed through the right side to score his first NFL touchdown.
Barber's previous single-game best was 114 yards against Philadelphia as a rookie in 1997.