Eli Manning may look like a quarterback who could use a hug, but Antrel Rolle said he needs something else from his teammates.
"We have to be hard on Eli,'' the defensive captain said.
Rolle explained that as the face of the franchise endures the worst stretch of play of his career, the best thing the Giants players can do right now is demand the best from him.
That's not always easy to do. Every Giants player but one arrived on the team after Manning in 2004, and most of them weren't in the league even when he won the first of his two Super Bowl MVPs.
There is not much stargazing in an NFL locker room, but it's also easy for any player to understand the totem pole of importance to the franchise. There aren't two $100-million quarterbacks on the roster.
Add to that Manning's membership in football's royal family, and it's easy to see why the peasants would be hesitant to call out their princely passer.
"Eli is a tough guy,'' Rolle said. "I think a lot of people really don't understand him as a person or a player, but he's a tough guy. He can handle constructive criticism. He's a guy who can deal with pressure, obviously. He's the quarterback of the New York Giants. There isn't much more pressure than that.''
Manning puts it on himself, and he doesn't seem to think he needs anything other than one general concept.
"I know I need to play better,'' he said. "That's my only concern. That's all I'm worried about. I have to do a better job of protecting the football.''
And there's a good chance that no one in the locker room can be harder on Manning than he is on himself.
"Probably not,'' he said.
Now players who have counted on Manning to win them games and cover for their mistakes are in the odd position of having to do the same for him.
"We've been together for a long time,'' Justin Tuck said Thursday after the winless Giants' sixth straight loss was defined by a pick-6 and a key late interception, both of which were Manning's fault. "I've seen him do some remarkable things on the football field when all odds have been against him . . . He wants to come here and be the Eli of old and lead us to victory. All we can do as his teammates is continue to support him and continue to encourage him.''
Manning's 15 interceptions through the first six games of the season are the most by any quarterback since 1986. Part of that is due to his inaccuracy, but part of that also is due to his status on the team. For a quarterback to throw that many picks in such a short period of time and not lose his job, he must have a pretty impressive resume and some staggering credentials.
In fact, the guy who threw the 16 in 1986 is Dan Fouts, who was in the next-to-last season of his Hall of Fame career in San Diego.
"We know what he brings to this game, to this team,'' Rolle said. "Realistically speaking, we don't win without Eli. We can't win without him . . . That's just the reality of it, so we all want to get on the same page. We're here. We're his brothers.''
Notes & quotes: Center David Baas (neck) said he "absolutely'' expects to play Oct. 21 against the Vikings, but he has not yet been cleared by the doctors . . . Tom Coughlin gave the players the weekend off and did the same for the coaching staff. "Get some rest,'' he said he told them. "Think about the situation we're in and how your part can be part of the solution.'' . . . Coughlin said the defense will be looking to "tweak the system'' and "be creative'' in ways to help the pass rush.