DETROIT - All that angst about how awkward and clumsy Eli Manning looked while learning the West Coast offense in his 11th NFL season? All of it was pretty much spot on.
In the aftermath of a humiliating 35-14 loss to the Lions in Monday night's season opener, it's painfully obvious that the issues Manning faced in the preseason have leached into the regular season. And although it is too soon to make sweeping judgments about what this means for the long term, the plain truth is that Manning needs to adapt to his new offense as quickly as possible.
Manning himself is never one to obsess about what lies ahead for the long haul, instead choosing to look with much more immediacy at the problems he faces. But even he acknowledged that the Giants' offense is nowhere close to where it needs to be to become highly functional. Or even moderately functional.
"I knew we'd have to get better as the season goes on, but we could have definitely performed better than we did," he said. "There's definitely some things to build on, but overall, we need to improve."
Manning threw for only 163 yards and one touchdown and was intercepted twice, finishing with a 53.0 rating. He put together two long scoring drives, but his two third-quarter interceptions proved the Giants' undoing. They also led to questions about whether he will turn things around after throwing a career-high 27 interceptions in 2013.
Tom Coughlin was quick to spread the blame, not pinning the loss solely on Manning. "He's no more to blame than anyone else," he said. "Blame me."
The defense was just as bad as the offense. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 346 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score. Calvin Johnson had seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
But Manning's progress -- or lack thereof -- has to be foremost in Coughlin's mind. If he doesn't figure out this offense quickly, this season will be a lost cause. It could affect both men, too.
Coughlin hasn't made the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl after the 2011 season, and Manning's contract balloons to a whopping $17.5 million next year. If the Giants don't play winning football soon, both are sure to be impacted.
For now, Manning will try to figure out what went wrong and put in some fixes for Sunday's home opener against the Cardinals. He believes this is a critical time for any quarterback. "The first game is where you learn the most, I think," he said. "Looking at a full game and a lot of plays, we'll go back and dissect and be ready to learn where I need to improve, where I need to get better with my decision-making and my timing with the offense and a number of other players."
He believes the tone for an entire season can be set by what he learns from the first game, mostly because it's the first time he has had a chance to run the offense for a prolonged period of time, not just the snippets of games he plays in the preseason.
"You should make the biggest strides in that first or second game," he said. "You have a full game to look at exactly what you're doing and all the circumstances, the situations that come up and the rhythm of what goes on and the decision-making. I've just always felt that first or second game, you can make strides, and we have to come together as a team and fix the problems and get better in other areas."
The biggest area he has to get better in is protecting the football. The two third-quarter interceptions -- one on an attempt down the middle to tight end Larry Donnell and the other on a longer route to Victor Cruz near the left sideline -- were killers. The Giants were down only 14-7 when Manning turned the ball over, but by the time the Lions converted his second turnover into a touchdown, the Lions were up 27-7.
Game over, season just begun, problems everywhere you look.
If the Giants hope to avoid a repeat of last year's 0-6 start, they'll need to get better in a hurry. Especially the quarterback.