CINCINNATI -- There are two ways for the Giants to go after a game like Sunday's 31-13 beatdown by the Bengals.
"You can either get better," Antrel Rolle said, "or you can get worse."
The safety admitted, however, that it's hard to imagine that the Giants could possibly get any worse than they played in this game. The Giants will head into their bye week with a 6-4 record and still in first place in the NFC East, but also with questions about their defense, special teams, offensive line and -- perhaps most alarmingly -- their quarterback.
A slumping Eli Manning has gone three straight games without a touchdown pass, and with his decline, the Giants have slipped from title contenders to a team struggling to figure out where it all went wrong.
"It's kind of a familiar movie, huh?" Justin Tuck said after the game. "I don't know [what's going on]. I think, I don't know. I don't know what to tell you."
The Giants had all kinds of harbingers, omens and trends to battle besides the Bengals (4-5). They had never won in Cincinnati, a streak that has reached six games. Their November record under Coughlin is 13-21, including losses in the last five. They were one of the top teams in the NFL at winning heading into the bye, but not even that statistical life preserver could save them Sunday.
The Bengals took the opening kickoff and scored on a 56-yard pass from Andy Dalton to a wide-open A.J. Green 2:26 in. They were up 14-0 after the first 4:07 when a 68-yard punt return by Adam Jones led to an 11-yard TD pass to Andrew Hawkins.
"We were climbing uphill most of the day," Coughlin said.
The Giants never got beyond base camp for most of the day. Even when they did seem to have chances to get things going, they slipped back to the bottom. A special-teams turnover deep in Bengals territory resulted only in a field goal, one of two red-zone three-pointers.
A drive in the third quarter ended with Ahmad Bradshaw fighting for extra yardage and a first down, only to fumble. Manning threw both of his interceptions while Geno Atkins had a grip on his jersey, a sign that he was desperately trying to force plays rather than accept sacks.
"You're sure he figures it's on his shoulders to spearhead that move [toward success]," Coughlin said of Manning, "but it just didn't happen."
The Giants limp into the bye with a week to digest this loss and prepare for the last six games, a stretch Tuck called "a treacherous six" beginning with a playoff rematch against the Packers Nov. 25. (Good news: The Giants play only three games in November this year!)
Physically, the Giants can certainly use the time to recover. Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and Kenny Phillips all need the time to mend nagging injuries. "We're beat up right now," Bradshaw said. "We have a lot of guys hurt and this bye week will be very well needed. We'll come off this break and be ready to roll again."
It also will give the team a chance to rest mentally, even if they don't think they need it. Coughlin dismissed the idea that the Giants are emotionally spent, as did Manning, although he certainly allowed for the possibility. "When you are on the inside,'' he said, "you don't always see it."
Need it or not, the Giants will take the break. "This is an opportunity for us to do some soul-searching, to look ourselves in the mirror this next week," Tuck said. "Just get away from football for a little bit and refresh our bodies and our minds, and hopefully get back to playing Giants football."
Rolle said he is confident the team will do that. It's a team that lost four straight last season before winning a Super Bowl.
"We understand what we have here as a team," Rolle said. "We understand that we have been putting some bad ball out there on film. We have to get better from it. It's not a situation we've never been through before in our professional careers and we don't plan to continue to stay here at this point."
From "this point," after this performance, it's not as though there is any other option.