There's no guarantee the Giants can stop this slide
The gloom was still thick, the shock still fresh for the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday as they tried to come to grips with what had just happened in one of the most inauspicious performances of the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning era.
But off in one corner of the nearly silent locker room stood the team's general manager, looking remarkably calm and circumspect despite what had just happened to the Giants in a 31-13 rout at the hands of a Bengals team that had been in the midst of a four-game losing streak.
Jerry Reese has presided over the Giants for more than five years, has seen these kinds of collapses before and has seen his prized quarterback play this poorly. And he has seen Manning and his teammates and coaching staff summon the will to emerge from these periods of ineptitude to win two Super Bowl titles and never once go through a season with a losing record in his tenure.
Panic? Not even a scintilla of it, despite the fact Manning has now gone three straight games without a touchdown.
"Long way to go," he said. "Six games to go. There are peaks and valleys in every season. It's the National Football League. It's week to week. At the end of the day, we're still in first place. We definitely have to play better, but I think we will."
He speaks from experience. In 2007, the Giants were 6-2 and lost two of their next three before rallying to reach the playoffs. They went on to win the Super Bowl. Last season, there was another mid-season breakdown that saw a 6-2 record collapse under the weight of a four-game losing streak. But they recovered once more and won another Super Bowl title.
"My concern right now?" Reese said. "We all have to play better, all phases. That's the concern that we all have. I see that we need to play better."
No revelation there, and history suggests it's within the Giants' capabilities of getting on another late-season roll.
But no one should discount the possibility that there may not be another playoff run in this team this year. For as many times as they've extricated themselves from similar midseason swoons, they've succumbed to them, too. In 2009, they went from 5-3 to 8-8 and out of the tournament by the end. A year later, they went from 6-2 to 10-6 and out of the playoffs again, a collapse that was punctuated by a nightmare loss to the Eagles that saw them blow a 31-10 fourth-quarter lead.
Coughlin has a nice line about his outlook in light of his team's penchant for late-season slippage, one he trotted out again Monday. "My standard answer for last year was, 'It didn't come out too bad,' " he said. "Regardless of what it was at what time, it didn't turn out too badly. So I'll stick with that one."
But Coughlin needs to set the proper tone after his team returns from a much-needed bye week, and that mindset ought to be one that focuses on the present and doesn't rely so heavily on looking to last year and 2007.
And as they've discovered before, being in first place after 10 games doesn't ensure they'll be there after 16. Not with a schedule that includes upcoming games against the Packers, Saints, Falcons and Ravens, as well as divisional foes Washington and Philly.
The past might provide some hope, but it shouldn't be used as a crutch.
Better to stick with Coughlin's words from after the Cincinnati debacle as the more appropriate battle cry.
"We certainly got into this mess together," he said, "and we've got to find a way to get out of it together."