There have been other statistical lulls in recent seasons for Eli Manning, but none quite as jarring as this: He has gone three straight games without a touchdown pass, the first time that has happened since . . . his rookie season in 2004!
After yet another mystifyingly ineffective game Sunday, a 31-13 loss to a Bengals team that had lost four in a row, the Giants quarterback couldn't recall if he'd ever gone this long without throwing for a touchdown.
"I'm not positive," he said, concentrating more on the bigger picture. "All I'm worried about is we've lost these last two games and offensively we haven't been as sharp as we need to be."
It is yet another midseason slump for the Giants, who for the third consecutive season fell to 6-4 after getting to the halfway mark at 6-2. But there is more to be concerned about with this wobble, because Manning is playing some of the worst football of his career the past month.
He was mostly brilliant the first six games, throwing 11 touchdown passes and five interceptions and generating plenty of buzz about his worthiness as an MVP candidate. But in the last four games, those numbers have dropped off precipitously. He has one touchdown pass and six interceptions in that span -- numbers more commonly associated with the other quarterback who plays his home games at MetLife Stadium.
There were two more interceptions against the Bengals, including a third-quarter play that looked straight out of his rookie season. Manning dropped back to pass from his 18-yard line under a heavy rush. But instead of doing the smart thing and taking the sack, he tried to throw the ball away. He was hit as he threw, the ball popped into the air and tackle Pat Sims picked it off at the 12. Andy Dalton then threw the third of his four touchdown passes to extend Cincinnati's lead to 24-6.
On his team's next possession, Manning again was intercepted and the Bengals took over at the Giants' 16. Three plays later, Dalton had his fourth touchdown pass and a 31-6 lead.
Eli, say hello to rock bottom.
Or so he hopes.
As we have come to realize with Manning, these streaks of ineptitude must be tempered with the realization that he has overcome them before and turned this kind of midseason misfortune into playoff brilliance. After all, he is the reigning Super Bowl MVP, and the Giants still lead the NFC East by 11/2 games over Dallas.
And as we have seen so often from the quarterback whose nickname is "Easy," it was predictable that he reacted to his latest struggles without a smidgen of panic.
"No, I'm not worried," said Manning, who completed 29 of 46 for 215 yards with the two interceptions (he also lost a fumble early in the fourth quarter). "Over the years, we've gone through stretches where we haven't played our best football and we've been able to bounce out of that. That's what's going on right now."
But Eli remains unwilling to pass the blame to anyone else, and there certainly is plenty of it to go around. The line has blocked poorly -- there were four more sacks -- and the ineffective ground game has made the offense far too one-dimensional, often leaving Manning as an easy target. "I have to start playing better," he said.
Could there be something physically wrong with him? Speculation has surfaced that Manning might have a tired arm, but he pooh-poohed the suggestion.
"I don't think so," he said. "I feel like I'm making the throws and I don't feel like it's tired. If my arm were tired, I'd tell the coaches and we'd shut down some throws and throw a little bit less. I feel like I'm making throws; the ball's coming out well. I don't see anything to it."
At least Manning can rule out any physical problems. Which leaves the rest of the equation uncertain as the Giants head into their bye week to ponder how to apply a quick fix.
Manning hopes the Giants can use the lessons of the past to fulfill the promise of the future. He has been there before, and he came back twice to become a champion.