DETROIT – The Giants set a goal for Eli Manning to complete 70 percent of his passes this season. Perhaps they should move the decimal point. That would give Manning a chance, which is more than his offensive line did Monday night.
One game into the season, the Giants already appear to be 0-6. I know it’s not really that bad. I know it’s early and premature to make any predictions about how the rest of their season will play out based on the outcome of one game. But their 35-14 loss to the Lions was a debacle -- a “nightmare performance,” in the words of Giants coach Tom Coughlin, and it raises the question of just how many days Coughlin and Manning have left together.
They have won two Super Bowls together, but Coughlin is 68, Manning is 33, they didn’t make the playoffs in either of the last two years, and after the first week, they look like one of the worst teams in the league this year. How much more can Giants ownership take? Manning obviously can still play, but this team just has too many flaws for him to overcome at this point in his career.
The worst part about this result was that it was so predictable. The Giants finished 27th in a 32-team league in scoring last year. Their first-team offense looked awful in the preseason. The Lions may actually be pretty good, their defensive front may be genuinely great, and when Matthew Stafford plays well (and he was fantastic Monday), the Lions look like a playoff team. Calvin Johnson can catch 67-yard touchdown passes against any secondary, though when Coughlin watches the film, he might rethink the Giants’ approach of having two guys run into each other rather than cover Johnson.
Still, one truth about the Lions over the last decade is that everybody – and I mean EVERYBODY – can pass against them. Yet Manning finished with just 163 yards on 33 attempts. In his defense, his line was terrible, his receivers misplayed a ball or two, and the Lions employ several large angry men who apparently did not enjoy “The Book of Manning.” But next week, when the Giants face the Cardinals, his line will still be terrible, and his receivers won’t be much better.
Once, when Nick Fairley pressured him, Manning threw one of those “Ah, hell, we’re down 13 points and I’m Eli Manning!” passes. Some of those go for long gains, and they make Manning fun to watch. This one was picked off by Glover Quin. “Bad decision by me,” Manning said.
Manning threw another interception, to DeAndre Levy, which he called “a bad decision by me as well.” That makes it seem fixable, but even at his best, Manning made more than his share of bad decisions, and this team almost requires him to make bad decisions, or at least try to make plays himself, because how else will the Giants score? They rushed 22 times Monday for 53 yards.
One telling sequence came in the second quarter, when the Giants had first and goal from the Detroit one. They scored, but they needed four plays to do it, and three of them were passes. Manning did say he audibled out of one run play because the Lions stacked the box. But the Giants seemed to know they couldn’t pierce the middle of the Detroit defense.
Coughlin bemoaned the two turnovers. “We got back into that business again,” he said, as though they accidentally started selling opium again. But mostly, along with his general distaste for what he just experienced, Coughlin said this is his team, and he has to make the best of it.
Manning expertly Manning’ed his way through his postgame press conference. He spoke in generic terms, saying the Giants need to get “better down and distance,” and blaming himself for his two interceptions while managing to not blame himself too much, as that might spur speculation that he is losing confidence. He insisted that he is “not concerned,” and said, “we have to get better. That’s the challenge. We’ll work hard at doing it.”
This all makes sense, but it’s likely they will work very hard and only get a little better. Coughlin and Manning are probably too good to end up in a 2-14 sewage pit, but 5-11 looks like a pretty solid bet, and 5-11 teams that have missed three straight postseasons tend to make big changes.
It’s hard to see this becoming a good team again on Coughlin’s watch, unless the Giants are extraordinarily patient. As for Manning, he turns 34 in January. We tend to think of him as young, or at least in his prime, because he is five years younger than his brother Peyton, and if Peyton is putting up the best numbers of his career, then why can’t Eli? The problem with that thinking is that Peyton is a freak. He's in an entirely different league. I don’t care if he and Eli share DNA. It’s not fair to compare Eli to him.
It is tempting to think the Giants can dump leftovers and stale groceries into a pot and make magic again, because they did it on two Super Bowl runs in the last seven years. But those were good teams that played great in January. They had weapons on offense and playmakers on defense. This is not a good team. Yes, yes, yes: It’s so very early. The Giants can point out that they have 15 games left. But at this rate, is that good news?