CINCINNATI — The New York Giants have been down this road in Novembers past and still made it to February.
After flatlining Sunday in a 31-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, they have to hope they can regroup, recharge and come back from their upcoming bye weekend ready to play like the Giants of the last several seasons — and even the team they were several weeks ago.
Besides a 1.5-game lead in the NFC East, hope is about the only positive thought the Giants take forward.
The defending Super Bowl champions played Sunday like they were already on vacation, allowing the Bengals to jump out to an early lead and then watching the game spin out of control amid a flurry of second half turnovers and sloppiness.
Quarterback Eli Manning struggled for the third straight week, and by the time this one was over he’d been sacked four times and intercepted twice.
The Bengals (4-5) won for the first time since September and beat a team with a winning record for the first time since last November. A second straight loss drops the Giants to 6-4, and after the game Giants coach Tom Coughlin seemed more puzzled than enraged.
“I certainly don’t quite understand where we are and why (we’re there),” Coughlin said.
Naturally, the first look for an answer goes to Manning. After catching fire during a four-game win streak that started on Oct. 7, Manning has thrown just one touchdown in the past four games. Had it not been for a late drive in what was a 25-point game, Manning would have posted his third game in the last four with less than 200 yards passing.
With the help of the last drive, he finished 26-of-49 for 215 yards, a lost fumble in addition to the interceptions and a quarterback rating of 56, almost 30 points below his rating for the season.
“Every year we have gone through stretches where we didn’t play our best football and we were still able to bounce back,” Manning said. “That’s what is going on right now. Offensively, we’re not playing our best, converting on third downs, or scoring in the red zone. We haven’t made enough plays to keep the ball in our hands at all.
“I have to start playing better personally and we need to as a group as well. We still have good players and a good scheme. We just have to put it together better.”
It’s a bit of deja vu for the Giants, who also started last year 6-2, then lost four straight in a span that started on Nov. 13. At least in part because the Giants came back, got hot and went on to win the Super Bowl, there was no panic in the visitor’s locker room late Sunday afternoon.
There was an admission that the Giants currently have more questions than answers, and that the bye week comes at a good time.
“I still believe Eli will bounce back and play the way he’s played in the past,” Coughlin said. “At a championship level.”
Said Manning: “We have to get better. That wasn’t our best effort today.”
Coughlin said he’d given no thought to his team’s past November performances, and he wouldn’t discuss the possibility that his team was emotionally drained after a month that included a win at San Francisco, then back-to-back NFC East rivalry games before last week’s fourth-quarter loss to the Steelers.
“We certainly got in this mess together and we’re going to have to get out together,” Coughlin said. “We have a good team. We’ve done things very, very well here. We’ve got to snap out of whatever’s going on and get back to playing the way we’re capable of playing.”
The Bengals scored 14 points in the first 4:07 Sunday, a start that energized a team that was on a four-game losing streak and one from which the Giants wouldn’t recover. The first touchdown came when the NFL’s leader in receiving touchdowns, A.J. Green, ran basically uncovered up the sideline for a 56-yard score.
“I have no idea how I got that open,” Green said.
The Giants don’t either.
Even after that horrific start, the Giants had chances to get back into the game. They drove to the Bengals’ 13-yard line but settled for a field goal and a 17-6 deficit late in the first half, then really fell apart in the third quarter, when turnovers led to the Bengals driving a total of 28 yards for two more touchdowns.
The game was already pretty much decided by the time the fourth quarter started, but Victor Cruz dropping what would have been a touchdown pass on the first play of the final quarter symbolized what had gone on in the previous three quarters and why the Giants left Cincinnati with so many questions.
Sunday just wasn’t the Giants’ day. So far — again — November is not the Giants’ month.