Eli Manning has been mired in confusion all season. (David Banks/Getty Images)
Well, at least they made this one competitive. The New York Giants, who hadn't lost by less than a touchdown since their season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, fell to 0-6 on the 2013 season with a 27-21 Thursday night loss to the Chicago Bears. The Giants managed to hold a team to under 30 points for the first time this season and got their first 100-yard rusher of the season in the rejuvenated Brandon Jacobs, but Eli Manning threw three more interceptions to up his league-leading total to 15.
To his credit, Manning managed to recover after throwing two of those picks on New York's first two drives, including a pick-six to Tim Jennings with 10:01 left in the first quarter. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin recalled that one of the early picks was a miscommunication between Manning and receiver Rueben Randle.
"It's frustrating not winning." Manning said. "I feel like I'm not doing my part to give this team some wins and some chances. Our guys are fighting hard, and they're doing their part, and I need to start doing mine."
"We played hard, and we fought," Coughlin said after the game. "We did a lot of good things, but we didn't do enough. That last drive would have been sensational -- to put that ball in the end zone and run the time right down to nothing. I do think that one of the goals we had was to try to play four quarters of championship-quality football, and we played four good, hard, solid quarters. To lose the game under the circumstances we did, with the nice drive going, it's very disappointing. The locker room's very disappointed, very frustrated. But they will stay together, they'll support one another, and we'll prepare ourselves to try to win the next game."
Manning's third pick came with 2:02 left in the game, as the Giants were driving downfield to try to win the game. He threw a deep, high ball to tight end Brandon Myers, and Jennings caught the overthrow for his second steal of the night.
"You saw what I saw," Coughlin said of Myers' attempt. "It was a high ball, but it did touch his hands."
Jacobs, who hadn't run for over 100 yards since Dec 11, 2011, looked like every bit the bruiser he was when he played for the Giants from 2005 through 2011 before a cup of coffee with the 49ers. He blasted through Chicago's depleted defensive line, which clearly missed tackles Henry Melton and Stephen Paea, for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. It was the only consistent thing about the Giants' performance all night.
"We got a good football game out of him," Coughlin said of Jacobs. "He ran hard. He's a very difficult guy to contend with. He pushed the pile in the end zone a couple times tonight, and he played well."
New York's defense certainly didn't play well in the first half. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler completed 13 of 18 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the opening 30 minutes, and had the Bears not stopped themselves on an early fourth down in the red zone, this game could have been out of reach much quicker. He finished with 24 completions in 36 attempts for 262 yards and stood on those two touchdowns as New York's defense stiffened and the Giants' offense began to chew clock. Chicago's last three drives before the end of the game ended in punts, but they weren't the ones making mistakes.
Cutler, the formerly petulant star, rallied his teammates this week so that the Bears could try to set things right after two straight losses. New head coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer are providing him with better overall route concepts, and the blocking is like nothing's Cutler's ever had before. On those 36 dropbacks, he wasn't sacked once, and encountered just two quarterback hits.
"This year, it's like night and day," receiver Brandon Marshall said of Cutler. "He's unbelievable. He's leading the way. Sometimes, it clicks for guys. I'm lost for words when I talk about him."
Marshall complained about ball distribution after catching just four passes in five targets for 30 yards in Chicago's 26-18 loss last Sunday, but he had a much better game this time, catching nine passes on 11 targets for 89 yards and both of Cutler's touchdowns. More than once, he simply proved too big and physical for New York's cornerbacks and safeties.
"It's good," Cutler said of the mismatches Marshall and his other receivers present. "We've got three of those guys with Alshon [Jeffery] and [tight end] Martellus [Bennett], and those guys played well.
"It's a good win, especially on Thursday -- short week and the guys are a little sore, but we came out here and played well in the first half. We hit some tough spots offensively down the stretch, we weren't converting on third downs, but those guys made some plays for us. We got a little banged up, but now we can get ready for next week."
The 4-2 Bears, now up on the Detroit Lions by half a game in the contentious NFC North, have the remainder of the season to look forward to. For the Giants, it's nothing but questions with no answers. They're 0-6 for the first time since 1976, and though they gave it their best shot at times against the Bears, this is a team that has clearly lost its way.
"We're all sick of it," Coughlin concluded. "We're all sick of the losing. But we put ourselves in this position, and there's only one way to get out of it. Nobody's going to hand you anything."
It's small consolation, but the Giants at least looked this time as if they'd know what to do with it if somebody did.