Eli Manning was asked if this felt like rock bottom. The two-time Super Bowl MVP had just endured one of the worst defeats in franchise history, blowing a 21-0 lead to the 1-10 Jaguars, extending the Giants’ losing streak to seven games.
“We’re not at rock bottom,” Manning insisted. “We’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep fighting for coach [Tom Coughlin] and fighting for the players. The guys work hard and do the right things. We want to find a way to win. We want to find a way to be proud of the work that we’re doing and be proud of the week of preparation and dedication that we put in to win these games. We want to get that feeling back.”
It was a diplomatic answer from a diplomatic quarterback, but if this isn’t rock bottom for Manning and the Giants, I’d hate to see what is. The Jaguars’ stunning 25-24 come-from-behind victory Sunday could have ramifications that last well beyond this season. Losing to one of the worst teams in the NFL is embarrassing enough, but the manner in which the Giants folded after leading 21-0 and 21-3 at halftime will be the lasting memory of a woeful season. It likely will cost Coughlin his job at the end of the year and could force the franchise to consider a change at quarterback sooner rather than later.
“As a player anytime you’re losing games, you’re worried about a lot of things,” Manning said. “You want to keep playing and win games for your coaches. Guys are playing hard and competing and trying to do the right things. It’s just a matter of playing smarter and a little better.”
There is plenty of a blame of go around for what happened at EverBank Field. But Manning hurt the Giants as much as anyone. Twice he lost fumbles while being sacked. The first gave Jacksonville momentum to start its rally. The second secured the victory for the home team.
The nightmare began with 11:13 left in the third quarter and the Giants seemingly in control. That’s when Manning dropped back to pass on second-and-7 from his own 15, and was hit by blitzing linebacker Geno Hayes. The ball came loose in the Giants’ end zone. Jacksonville linebacker J.T. Thomas made the recovery and suddenly it was 21-10.
“I kind of saw it coming,” Manning said. “I thought I had it in two hands. It just got knocked out. I have to do a better job.”
The second sack-fumble came on the Giants’ last play of the game and was a fitting ending to their misery. The Jags had just kicked a 43-yard field goal for what would prove to be the final margin. With 28 seconds left from their own 20, the Giants’ slim hopes turned to dust when Manning lost the ball again while being dropped by defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks.
“I was about to make a throw and tried to pull it back and it got knocked out,” Manning said.
The losing streak is seven games; the streak of non-playoff seasons is now at three. None of that bodes well for the future, especially when rookie Blake Bortles was the best quarterback on the field in the second half. Manning was terrific in the first half, when he completed 15-of-19 for 177 yards and one TD. But he was just 9-of-15 for 70 yards in the second half, including the two lost fumbles.
“I feel like at times we’re playing good football and doing some good things,” Manning said. “We just don’t have it figured out how to win the game. I don’t know how you teach that.”
Each loss seems to ensure Coughlin is coaching his final season with the Giants. It will be tougher to give up on Manning and his Super Bowl rings. But mobility in the pocket is becoming a necessity in the NFL these days. Bortles rushed for 68 yards and won the games with his legs. Manning, the proverbial statue in cleats, lost the ball twice while being hit.