Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
We have grown so accustomed to seeing Eli Manning pull himself together late in the fourth quarter and pull out improbable wins with his passing magic that it's bewildering to see anything but a miracle finish.
He has been successful in 22 of these defining moments in the regular season, and twice more in the Giants' Super Bowl wins over the Patriots. So on the rare occasion when Manning fails to achieve that kind of signature finish, there is an accompanying sense of shock.
Which was precisely the case in Sunday's 24-20 loss to the Steelers, a rare moment when Manning was presented the chance to rally his team down the stretch yet couldn't summon the wherewithal to get it done.
The question: Was it a one-game glitch or a disturbing sign of offensive issues that run deeper than recent results might suggest?
Winning sometimes masks problems that wouldn't ordinarily surface, and that might have been as much a factor against the Steelers as Manning's disturbing number of incompletions. For all of his late-game resourcefulness against the Redskins and Cowboys the previous two weeks, he needed fourth-quarter comebacks to make up for his lethargy leading up to those moments.
Manning was not sharp through much of the Redskins game. His inability to convert on third down against the Cowboys -- the Giants were 3-for-15 -- prevented his team from building an even bigger lead than 23-0 in the second quarter.
There were more problems Sunday. In his much-anticipated duel with 2004 draft classmate Ben Roethlisberger, Manning completed 10 of 24 passes for 125 yards, no touchdowns and one interception and had a passer rating of 41.1. It was his lowest rating since a 2008 playoff loss to the Eagles (40.7).
"We've done a pretty good job in the fourth quarter and coming back and scoring points and finishing games," Manning said. "We were in position , but we . . . just didn't come through. All night we weren't as sharp as we needed to be."
Manning had a chance to be the hero when he took over at his 12-yard line after Pittsburgh scored its second touchdown of the fourth quarter to take a 24-20 lead. He couldn't connect with Victor Cruz on a pass to his left. He threw high on a pass over the middle to Martellus Bennett. Then he was sacked for a 9-yard loss and fumbled; the Giants recovered but had to punt. They never got the ball again.
Manning said after the game that the Giants' offense, even with those two dramatic wins over the Redskins and Cowboys, has not been consistent enough.
"We haven't been playing our best football offensively the last few weeks," he said. "Tonight it finally caught up to us."
Tom Coughlin hopes there is a solution in the not-too-distant future to prevent the Giants (6-3) from descending into another second-half swoon that threatens their playoff positioning. He knows Manning must find a way to nip this in the bud before it becomes a major issue.
"We've got to get him back on track," Coughlin said. "He's our guy, and we have to get him back playing the way he was a couple of weeks ago. And we have to do it in a hurry."
It was a uniquely challenging week for the Giants, who spent time like the rest of us pondering the events and scenes of devastation from superstorm Sandy's wrath. Manning himself was displaced from his home in Hoboken, N.J., and had to seek refuge in a nearby hotel.
"I thought our focus was good. Our practice was good all week," he said. "I think I've kept my regular schedule. I think the guys did a good job with not complaining about things and not making excuses. We were prepared to play. We just didn't play our best."
And that starts with the quarterback, who had another off day -- and this time it included the fourth quarter.