New York's 37-34 exhibition victory Monday night was made easier by the Cleveland Browns, who had a season's worth of mistakes in little more than a quarter, including 98 penalty yards and a fumble that resulted in a 95-yard TD for the Giants.
That return gave New York (1-1) a 30-3 lead less than a minute into the second quarter, one that second- and third-stringers barely managed to maintain.
Hixon, starting at wide receiver because Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Steve Smith didn't suit up, caught 11- and 24-yard touchdown passes from Manning in the first quarter. He returned a free kick 82 yards for a touchdown after a series of Cleveland mistakes that included a safety on a punt by Dave Zastudil that he kicked into one of his teammates.
"Evidently we didn't do enough work in the last 10 days," Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said. "Like I told them, it's my fault for trying to save them a little bit and not beat them up on the practice field. So we came down here and got beat up in the game."
Hixon, who in an exhibition loss to Detroit 10 days ago failed to get two feet down on what might have been a TD catch, credited Toomer with helping him learn to do it.
"As soon as we got back to practice, Amani showed me," said Hixon, who got his feet down just inside the end zone twice on Monday. "He's the best in the business at that. He knows just how to stay in, even if he has to fall doing it."
After Phil Dawson's 56-yard field goal on their first drive, the Browns (0-2) simply self-destructed.
The next New York series started from the Cleveland 49 because Mike Adams interfered with Hixon's attempt to catch a punt, giving the Giants 15 extra yards. They got 15 more when Andra Davis was called for throwing a punch at a Giant -- and missing, which is what the Browns' starters were doing all night.
That drive ended in the second TD pass to Hixon from Manning, who was 4-of-7 for 52 yards in his one quarter.
The Giants recorded a safety later in the period after two more Cleveland penalties pushed the Browns back to their own 1. Zastudil, with only 10 yards to punt, deflected his kick off teammate Travis Thomas out of bounds for a safety. Hixon returned the ensuing free kick 82 yards for his third TD.
"A hat trick in a quarter is not a bad night," Manning said of Hixon, who was picked up by the Giants last season after being cut by Denver. He returned a kickoff for a TD against New England last season and has been outstanding in camp.
Until then, Hixon was best known as the special teams player for the Broncos who collided with Buffalo's Kevin Everett on a kickoff, causing the Bills player to be temporarily paralyzed.
Cleveland's Syndric Steptoe returned a kickoff 90 yards to the Giants' 9 on the last play of the first quarter. Two plays later, Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis botched a handoff and New York's James Butler returned it 95 yards for the touchdown that made it 30-3.
Anderson, who was 4-of-10 for 20 yards under pressure from the Giants defense, left the game shortly after being sacked by Osi Umenyiora. The team said he had a possible concussion.
It was 30-17 at halftime after Steptoe ran 7 yards for a score and two of the mistake makers, Adams and Wright, combined for a Cleveland touchdown -- Adams slamming into Giants QB Anthony Wright as he attempted to pass. Eric Wright grabbed it and took it in from 15 yards.
Brady Quinn, who was 7-of-12 for 124 yards, hit Steptoe for a 44-yard TD pass on the first series of the second half to cut it to 30-24. But Ahmad Bradshaw went in from a yard out on the next drive to make it a two-score lead again.
Jason Reda's 44-yard field goal with 7:07 left in the game made it 37-27. And Ken Dorsey's 8-yard touchdown pass to Lance Leggett with 2:25 left cut it to 37-34. Danny Ware, who carried 10 times for 97 yards for the Giants, then ran out the game with a series of long gains.
But that was reserves. What counts in these games is the play of the starters and Crennel knew it.
"As you saw, we didn't play very good. They outcoached us. They outplayed us. We were in it for a second," he said. "Then we got too many penalties and penalties changed field position. The first quarter basically was the game. It was unbelievable."
|Domenik Hixon returns a kick 82 yards for a score, his third TD of the first quarter. (Getty Images)|
|NY Giants (1-1-0) «||23||7||7||0||37|
CLE - Pass: K. Dorsey (9-11, 143), Rec: S. Steptoe (3-80)|
NYG - Pass: D. Carr (7-14, 53), Rush: D. Ware (10-97)
|FG||Phil Dawson 56 Yd, 10:05. Drive: 7 plays, 26 yards in 3:19.|
|TD||Domenik Hixon, 11 Yd pass from Eli Manning (Josh Huston kick is good), 8:37. Drive: 4 plays, 79 yards in 1:28.|
|TD||Domenik Hixon, 24 Yd pass from Eli Manning (Josh Huston kick is good), 6:11. Drive: 3 plays, 49 yards in 1:11.|
|TD||Domenik Hixon, 82 Yd kick return (Josh Huston kick is good), 0:09.|
|TD||James Butler, 95 Yd fumble return (Josh Huston kick is good), 14:05.|
|TD||Syndric Steptoe, 7 Yd run (Phil Dawson kick is good), 2:28. Drive: 6 plays, 69 yards in 2:28.|
|TD||Eric Wright, 15 Yd interception return (Phil Dawson kick is good), 1:54.|
|TD||Syndric Steptoe, 44 Yd pass from Brady Quinn (Jason Reda kick is good), 12:47. Drive: 5 plays, 63 yards in 2:13.|
|TD||Ahmad Bradshaw, 1 Yd run (Josh Huston kick is good), 7:09. Drive: 10 plays, 41 yards in 5:38.|
|FG||Jason Reda 44 Yd, 7:07. Drive: 6 plays, 40 yards in 2:56.|
|TD||Lance Leggett, 8 Yd pass from Ken Dorsey (Jason Reda kick is good), 2:25. Drive: 8 plays, 85 yards in 2:53.|
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