The New York Giants blew a fourth-quarter lead last week as their four-game winning streak came to an end. With a recent history of struggling through the second half of the season, they hope a matchup with the sliding Cincinnati Bengals proves to be just what they need.
The Giants look to get back on track before their bye week as they try to extend the Bengals' losing streak to five Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
While New York (6-3) is atop the NFC East by 2 1/2 games, it squandered a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead en route to a 24-20 home loss to Pittsburgh last week. The Giants struggled offensively, totaling 182 yards in what appears to be developing into a troubling pattern.
The club led the league in plays of 20-plus yards through the first seven weeks, but have produced four such plays in the last two games. A slump by Eli Manning has been a major part of the problem.
Manning completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,109 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions while posting a 92.5 rating in the first seven games. He's since completed 47.2 percent with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a rating of 50.6.
Manning's 125 passing yards against Pittsburgh were his fewest since throwing for 119 on Dec. 28, 2008, at Minnesota.
"No one likes to lose or play poorly," he said. "We have to see where we can do better and above everything, you have to look at yourself first. I'm responsible for a lot of it. I'm where it starts. Our offense is not playing up to its potential."
The Giants have averaged 78.3 rushing yards in the last three games compared to 150.0 in the first five, with starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw limited to 169 yards the past three weeks.
"We're going to continue to stay positive and win some games at this time of year," said receiver Victor Cruz, who ranks among the top 10 in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns but has been held to seven catches for 90 yards and no scores in the last two contests.
"It's just a matter of us getting on the same page. I'm not worried. We just have to attack the problem areas and get back on track, beginning this week."
If the Giants don't, the comparisons to past second-half collapses will only increase. New York's four-game losing streak that followed a 6-2 start last season nearly kept it out of the playoffs, and rough second halves doomed the club's title hopes in the previous three seasons.
Making things all the more challenging, the Giants face a brutal schedule after next week. Following this game, four of their last six opponents - Green Bay, New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore - were playoff teams last season while the other two, Washington and Philadelphia, are division opponents.
There's little question the Bengals are in a slump, going 0-4 since a 3-1 start. Cincinnati also lost a fourth-quarter lead last week, as it was up 20-17 after three periods before five penalties and an interception in the fourth contributed to a 31-23 loss.
The Bengals, who have led or been tied in the final quarter in three of their last four defeats, have dropped three in a row at home.
"Unfortunately, we haven't gotten it done for them (the fans), and that's the disappointing thing," coach Marvin Lewis said. "But they've been into it, and it plays a big part when you have the advantage of playing at home. We've got to take more advantage and finish the game out."
Finishing up a three-game home stretch, Cincinnati's hopes of a second straight wild-card berth could suffer a fatal blow with another loss this week.
"It was urgent last week," safety Chris Crocker said. "It was urgent the week before that. There's really no heightened sense of urgency. We're a very urgent team."
The Bengals will have to do a better job of protecting Andy Dalton after he was sacked five times Sunday. New York has 25 sacks, tied for third most in the NFL.
Cincinnati will try to keep Dalton upright long enough to get the ball to A.J. Green, whose 735 receiving yards are sixth most in the league. Green has caught a touchdown pass in seven straight games.
The Giants may not even have their top receiver available, as Hakeem Nicks suffered more swelling in his left knee this week. Nicks, who has battled injuries for most of the season, is uncertain for Sunday.
''He is doing what he can do,'' Manning said. ''Hopefully, we can continue the course and get him more and more healthy. I definitely think he is better than a few weeks ago.''
The Bengals took the last meeting with the Giants 26-23 in 2008. The home team has won all eight matchups in the series.