NFL Preview - NY Giants (0-5) at Chicago (3-2)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Super Bowl dreams have turned into October nightmares for the winless New York Giants.
In fact the scariest thing this Halloween season has been the play of Eli Manning and his teammates.
A Giants team which actually placed a Super Bowl countdown clock in their own locker room and fancied themselves as a legitimate title contender is now at 0-5 a scant five weeks into the season as they prepare to take on the Chicago Bears on Thursday night.
Hindsight now says the Giants' dream of playing in another Big Game in their own backyard was nothing more than a fairytale, derailed by a perfect storm of injury and ineptitude that has engulfed "Big Blue" and head coach Tom Coughlin.
By the end of the Giants' latest collapse, an ugly 36-21 setback to lightly regarded NFC East division rival Philadelphia last Sunday at MetLife Stadium, even the North Jersey faithful recognized just how bad things had gotten, serenading its former heroes off the turf with a healthy chorus of boos.
"There are only two ways to finish out this season," said veteran defensive lineman Justin Tuck. "Figuring out some kind of way to right this ship and get some positive momentum going here. Or you can sulk and feel sorry for yourself and have the worst season ever in Giants history."
New York is 0-5 for the first time since the strike-shortened 1987 season after committing four turnovers that were converted into 17 Eagles' points. The Giants now have a league-high 20 giveaways through five games, including 12 Manning interceptions after the struggling quarterback was picked off three times in the fourth quarter against Philly.
"Offensively, we just have to take care of the ball better. It's as simple as that," said wide receiver Victor Cruz. "We make plays when we have the ball in our hands and we are pitching and catching, moving the ball up the field. When we turn the ball over, that's when things go awry."
The injury-riddled Giants also saw another key player go down against the Eagles when running back David Wilson exited in the first quarter with a neck injury. Wilson has already been ruled out for the Bears.
Manning did accumulate 334 yards against Philly despite completing just 24- of-52 attempts and he hit Rueben Randle for a pair of touchdowns in the second half. Hakeem Nicks racked up 142 yards on nine catches in the setback, while Randle put up 96 yards on six grabs.
The Bears, meanwhile, are also scuffling a bit, dropping two straight games after a 3-0 start.
The latest setback came in the Second City on Sunday when Garrett Hartley booted four field goals and Drew Brees threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns as the New Orleans Saints remained perfect with a 26-18 decision over Chicago.
Alshon Jeffery led the way with a franchise-record 218 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches for the Bears. Jay Cutler finished 24-of-33 for 358 yards and had another scoring pass to Brandon Marshall, while Matt Forte totaled 55 yards on 12 carries in defeat.
"Against a team like that, the way they played offensively and ate up the clock it's hard to rebound if you miss three or four plays in the game," Cutler admitted.
This will be the 49th regular season meeting between the Giants and Bears with Chicago holding a 27-19-2 advantage. The Giants have won two straight in the series, however, and their last four at Soldier Field.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This is already the Giants' worst start in a non-strike-shortened season since 1979 when Joe Pisarcik kicked off that campaign at quarterback for Ray Perkins until the coach pulled the plug and went to rookie Phil Simms, a move that eventually jump-started the franchise and returned it to relevancy.
Barring a hiccup here and there, New York has remained competitive ever since, punctuated by its four Super Bowl championships after the 1986, 1990, 2007 and 2011 seasons.
Another Super Bowl berth is a non-starter now. Since the NFL changed to the current playoff format in 1990, no team has started 0-5 and made it to the postseason. So, perhaps the Giants' new goal should be avoiding the franchise- worst 0-9 start of the 1976 team.
"I'm always going to come out here fighting," safety Antrel Rolle said. "I don't care if we are 0-15. We just need to pick it up. We need to pick it up. Get our head out of our (behind) and pick it up. That's the reality of it. We are losing games around here and that's not Giants football we are playing."
"For us, we're not even thinking about the playoffs now," linebacker Spencer Paysinger added. "Right now we are 0-5 and looking for our first win, hopefully coming on Thursday."
Things have gotten so bleak that Coughlin, the two-time Super Bowl winning coach, finally pointed the finger of blame at his two-time big game quarterback Manning.
"I honestly believe that he's trying so hard to get us a win, he's almost put too much on himself," Coughlin said. "He keeps it all pretty much inside. I'm not making excuses. There were a couple of those plays that were terrible."
As mentioned Manning threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter versus the Eagles and he is now on pace to give it away 38 times, an almost laughably inefficient performance considering all the changes to the game in recent years that have favored the offense, particularly the passing game.
An NFL signal caller hasn't tossed 30-or-more interceptions in a season since 1988, when Vinny Testaverde had 35 for the Buccaneers. Again, though, that was an era when defenses were actually allowed to do some things without seeing yellow -- or last week, pink -- littering the field.
To be fair to Manning his offensive line has been awful for most of the season and the running game non-existent. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has completed just 53.7 percent of his passes and been sacked 15 times while New York averages an NFL-low 56.8 rushing yards per game.
"We're throwing the ball a lot and we're obviously low on running backs right now," Manning said. "I thought we left some plays out there, some balls down the field. I missed a couple -- a couple that were very close to being made. We just have to keep finding ways to make those plays. You don't get a whole lot of second chances in this league."
Even with the obvious deficiencies, second chances shouldn't be needed with weapons on the outside like Cruz, Nicks and the emerging Randle. In fact, it's hard to buy into the narrative that Manning is trying to lead the Little Sisters of the Poor.
"I know I can play better," Manning understated. "Sometimes, things are going to go wrong, but you've got to make the best decision. Throw it away, take a sack. I know I can't keep turning the ball over."
The football gods are more than a little ironic, however, and Manning's next test will be in Chicago after a short week of preparation against the NFL's most opportunistic defense.
The Bears "D" has 10 interception-return touchdowns since the start of the 2012 season -- the most in the NFL -- and has scored three defensive touchdowns so this season. Chicago failed to take it away against New Orleans for the first time in 11 games but is still third in the NFL with 14 takeaways.
"We have to stay positive," Manning said. "We have a short week and we play on Thursday night, so we've just got to keep working and I've got to start playing better football and making better throws, and putting our team in a better situation to win some games."
The Bears offense is hardly dynamic but Cutler is completing a career-best 65.7 percent of his passes so far this season and the Giants are allowing a league-worst 36.4 points per contest, surrendering at least 31 in all five games to match the NFL record set by the 1954 Chicago Cardinals
The Bears should get back on track here and the G-Men are likely to set a new ignominious mark.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 31, Giants 23
10/09 11:30:50 ET