On the list of all the things that need to be straightened out with the Giants, No. 10 has to be No. 1.
After playing at an MVP pace through the first six games of the season, Eli Manning has regressed steadily in each of the last three weeks, saving one of the worst clunkers of his career for Sunday's 24-20 loss to the Steelers.
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"Obviously, I didn't play well [Sunday]," Manning said Monday. "There's no hiding it. I didn't play my best football and I have to play better. That's all I'm worried about."
That's all the Giants should be worried about, too. Except they're not. Because Manning has been known to go through these rough patches in the past, and they usually don't last very long. The expectation is that this one has just about run its course.
"He'll come bouncing back," Tom Coughlin said. "He'll be back."
Asked why he thinks Manning will be able to do that, Coughlin gave a catalog of characteristics that make his quarterback immune to prolonged periods of poor play.
"Ability, who he is, how he works, resilient," Coughlin said. "You know, the type of person he is, the character he has, the pride, the work ethic. All of those things."
"I've gone through stretches where I haven't played great football and have been able to bounce back and start playing better," Manning said. "As a team, we have to have that attitude that we can play at a high level, we can play better than what we're playing right now."
Just how bad was Manning? Well, his passer rating for the Steelers game was 41.1. That was his lowest since a 40.7 in a playoff loss to the Eagles on Jan. 11, 2009. It was his worst in the regular season since a 32.2 against the Bills on Dec. 23, 2007. The latter game was played in a virtual blizzard at Buffalo, the former in strong Giants Stadium winds. Sunday's game was on a cool, brisk November evening that should have been perfect for football.
Manning has not thrown a touchdown pass since the 77-yard game-winner to Victor Cruz on Oct. 21 against the Redskins. It's only the third time in his career that he's gone two consecutive games without a touchdown pass. The last time was against the Titans and Bears in early 2010. He went three straight against the Eagles, Redskins and Ravens in 2004, his rookie season.
Also alarming was some miscommunication with Cruz, his most trusted receiver. The two usually connect flawlessly, but in the last few weeks, they have had blips in that telepathy.
"They hopefully will get back on the same page," Coughlin said. "There's no way you can have a lack of communication and be effective in the passing game. It's got to be decisive. The timing's got to be perfect, and it wasn't."
There have been plenty of times throughout the years that Manning has been able to carry the team when it was playing badly in other areas. Now, if he can't turn things around quickly, the other areas will be asked to carry him.
"Any time a quarterback doesn't play great football, [it's hard to win]," Justin Tuck said. "This is a quarterback-driven league, especially with this team being so accustomed to No. 10 playing great and being Superman in the fourth quarter . . . When the offense isn't clicking the way it's normally clicking, our defense has to shut some people down and win those [low-scoring] games or whatever it may be."
Manning thinks the Giants will be fine, even if he isn't for the time being. "I didn't play great against Dallas and we won," he pointed out.
No one on the Giants wants to have to do that week in and week out. And the prospect of a slumping quarterback has the Giants so unnerved that they're avoiding the very word slump.
"I don't know what that is," Coughlin said. "This is not baseball."
"I wouldn't call it a slump," Cruz said. "It's just a couple of bad games, where everyone is just not getting things done together and catching the football and moving the ball."
Manning isn't concerned about the terms.
"Whatever you want to call it, we're not playing good football," he said. "That's what it is. No one is going to come in and help us out. It's all about us getting back to playing better football . . . and we'll do that."