KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The last time things were this bad for the Giants, the actual Giants weren't even on the field. It was 1987 and replacement players were wearing the traditional blue and white uniforms at the start of the season while the majority of the real roster was on strike.
This year's team has no such excuse.
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The Giants -- the actual, honest-to-not-so-goodness Giants -- continue to plummet and now have gone through a quarter of the season without so much as sniffing a victory. They've been outscored 146-61 after Sunday's 31-7 loss to the still-undefeated Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. They have allowed at least 30 points in four straight games, the first time that's happened since 1964. In 240 minutes of football this year, the Giants have led for a total of 9 minutes, 51 seconds and haven't had a lead since the second quarter in Week 2.
The last true Giants team to start this badly was the 1979 squad that started 0-5. In other words, the dark ages.
Perhaps most disturbing is that the supposed strength of this team -- Eli Manning and his corps of big-play wide receivers -- has turned into mush. Manning did hit Victor Cruz for a 69-yard touchdown in the second quarter, but other than that, the offense fizzled. The Giants remain the only team in the NFL without a scoring drive of at least 10 plays this season and are averaging a league-worst 4.5 plays per possession.
It has left Manning admitting to being as puzzled as he has been since his rookie season.
"You feel like you have good preparation and guys competed, but we just aren't making many plays," he said. "I think we have playmakers. They're just not doing too well."
Especially in the second half. The Giants managed only 116 yards in the third and fourth quarters, a performance Tom Coughlin called "extremely poor" and a "debacle."
It's to the point that even the Giants' optimism is starting to sound hollow.
"I continue to believe that we still can be good," said Hakeem Nicks, who dropped three passes. "It's just four games . . . We still have the same guys that still could make plays. It's still early in the season. I believe we can fix this and I think we will fix this."
The Giants have said in past weeks that they are in search of a spark, but when the offense is wet kindling, even the flicker of three takeaways won't do the trick. The Giants had a three-and-out after each opportunity.
"Our job is just to go out there and get the ball, and we did that a few times," said safety Antrel Rolle, who had one of the two interceptions of Alex Smith. "What the offense does is what they do . . . We have to push a little more, try a little bit harder and try to score on defense."
Even when the Giants' offense was able to push the ball, as it did late in the second quarter, another unit failed. Josh Brown missed a 44-yard field-goal attempt that would have tied the score at 10 with two seconds left in the half. Instead, the Giants trailed 10-7.
Until, of course, the defining sequence of the game and perhaps the season. After Cruz came up just short of a first down on third-and-17 in the third quarter, Dexter McCluster returned the Giants' punt 89 yards for a touchdown.
Smith hit Jamaal Charles for a 2-yard touchdown pass with 5:43 left in the game to cap a 14-play, 80-yard drive that essentially iced the game at 24-7. Dwayne Bowe caught a 34-yard touchdown pass, breaking tackle attempts by Terrell Thomas and Rolle, to make it 31-7 with 3:06 left.
Amazingly enough, despite their historically bad start, the Giants still have a pulse because the rest of the division seems to be just as inept. They trail the Cowboys (2-2) by only two games and the Eagles and Redskins both are 1-3. The Giants face the Eagles on Sunday and the Cowboys will play the seemingly invincible Broncos. If the Giants win their next game, they could be 1-4 and a game out of first place.
"I would never use a word like demoralized," said Mathias Kiwanuka, and in this division, why would he? "It is disappointing, for sure. It's not where we want to be. But it's the situation we put ourselves in, and we'll get out of it."
The Giants seem to believe that, and will to the very end.
"The season is not over," Rolle said. "We have 12 [games] left. That's plenty of opportunity to fight. I don't care if we are 0-15, we're going to continue to fight until the last game."
At this pace, we may find that out for certain.