Defensive tackle Christian Peter returned a fumble for a touchdown and Andre Weathers scored on an interception return as the New York Giants' defense overcame its inept offense and defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 17-13.
Peter rumbled 38 yards for a touchdown off a fumble by Tampa Bay quarterback Trent Dilfer, who was intercepted 3 times. His most costly interception was returned 8 yards for a score by Weathers in the third quarter, giving the Giants a 14-10 lead.
"There's always nervousness being in the NFL for the first time," Weathers said. "I always go into the game with a positive attitude. Offense plays offense, and defense plays defense and that's how you win a game. It feels great to get inside the end zone, anything to help the team win."
New York also had a 36-yard field goal by Brad Daluiso set up by an interception. The Giants were outgained, 254 yards to 107 in total offense and Tampa Bay had a 15-4 advantage in first downs.
Dilfer completed 15 of 31 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown for Tampa Bay before getting pulled in favor of Eric Zeier with 9:05 left in the fourth quarter. Zeier fared no better, completing just 3 of 11 passes for 14 yards.
"It's a simple case of trying to do too much," Dilfer said about the interceptions. "I was just trying to make some things happen when I probably should have thrown the ball out of bounds in two of those instances. As a quarterback you make decisions and you go with them. Sometimes you look like a genius and sometimes it doesn't work out for you. Today it turned out poorly."
The Buccaneers did not have a first down on 4 possessions with Zeier and their chance to tie the game ended when he was intercepted by cornerback Phillippi Sparks on the Tampa Bay 38-yard-line with 1:17 to play.
Kent Graham completed 12 of 23 passes for 91 yards for the Giants. His longest completion was just 12 yards, but he did not throw an interception.
"We need to get our offense on track and the penalties killed us," said Giants coach Jim Fassel, whose team was penalized 9 times for 59 yards. "Both defenses played very well, but we had less errors in the game. I thought we punted very well. Special teams and the offense made no errors and our protection and passing were good."
Rookie Sean Bennett, who became New York's No. 1 running back when Gary Brown suffered a knee injury after the final exhibition game, rushed 13 times for 24 yards.
Corey Widmer led the Giants with 10 tackles and fellow linebacker Jesse Armstead had 7 tackles. Each had a sack.
Armstead's hit on Dilfer caused the fumble that was returned by Peter for a 7-0 lead 3:23 into the game.
"Somebody has to make the big play. Me being captain of the defense I felt I had to make the big play," Armstead said. "If you put enough pressure on any quarterback he will get rattled."
"I was fortunate to get the ball, then I ran as fast as I could," Peter said. "That was my first touchdown."
Martin Gramatica kicked a 23-yard field goal to pull the Buccaneers within 7-3, 45 seconds into the second quarter. Tampa Bay took a 10-7 lead into halftime after Dilfer threw a o1-yard pass to tight end Dave Moore with 16 seconds left in the first half. The 5-play, 54-yard drive was keyed by Bert Emanuel's 39-yard pass that brought the ball to the Giants 1-yard-line.
Brad Maynard's 52-yard punt went out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 1-yard-line and two plays later Weathers picked off Dilfer and sprinted eight yards to give the Giants a 14-10 lead with 3:31 left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay answered on the following drive as Gramatica kicked a 36-yard field goal to cut the lead to 14-13 with 15 seconds left in the quarter.
Safety Percy Ellsworth's second interception of the game set up Daluiso's 36-yard field goal for the final margin just under three minutes into the fourth.