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Giants take a step backward, fall to 2-13

Quarterback Eli Manning of the Giants is sacked

Quarterback Eli Manning of the Giants is sacked by inside linebacker Deone Bucannon of the Cardinals in the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. Credit: Getty Images / Norm Hall

GLENDALE, Ariz. — There’s no disputing which list the 2017 Giants belong on.

Now they’re at the top — or bottom — of it.

Sunday’s 23-0 loss to the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium was the 13th for this team, the most in a single season in franchise history (93 seasons). They entered the Christmas Eve game tied with the 1966, 1974, 1980, 1983 and 2003 versions of the Giants for ineptitude, then eclipsed it with the same brand of dubious football and underpowered playmaking that has haunted them all year.

“No one wants to lose and lose as much as we have,” Eli Manning said. “It’s been tough all year. Nothing has come easy.”

Mercifully, there is but one game remaining in this wretched season. That may be the best present the Giants can offer to their fans in this season of giving: that it is almost over.

In the next month or so, the Giants (2-13) will name a new general manager and a new head coach. They’ll make decisions about their future at key positions on the field, including — for the first time in a decade and a half — quarterback. They will try to push the memory of this season down into the deepest recesses of organizational memory.

Sunday’s game will be among them, but it will have a hard time standing out.

It was not the most humiliating loss of the campaign. The ones to the Rams and 49ers vie for that title.

It wasn’t the most debilitating. The loss to the Chargers, in which the Giants’ three starting wide receivers were injured, holds that spot.

And it wasn’t the most gut-wrenching. The two to the Eagles, the NFC’s top team, by a total of eight points, own that honor.

This one was just a loss, another to add to the pile and remarkable only for being the most recent and the first shutout of the Giants since Week 6 of the 2014 season. That was the game in which Victor Cruz tore his patella tendon in Philadelphia.

Asked where this one falls on the disappointment spectrum, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said: “The whole season has been disappointing.”

The Giants’ offense, coming off its best performance of the season when it scored 29 points against the Eagles a week ago, regressed to the point of near immobility. They managed just 293 yards, only 43 of them on the ground. Manning completed 27 of 45 passes for 263 yards with two interceptions and two fumbles (one of them recovered by the Giants).

Their best chance to score came when they drove to the Arizona 16 and had a second-and-2 midway through the second quarter. After they ran the ball twice for one total yard, Aldrick Rosas’ attempt to tie the score with a 33-yard field goal was wide left.

Even when cornerback Ross Cockrell recorded his second interception of the second half to give the Giants the ball at the Cardinals’ 26, they were pushed out of field-goal range by penalties and eventually turned the ball over on downs.

“It’s pretty frustrating to go from a week where you put up the highest points [on the season] to a goose egg,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “They didn’t do anything. I feel like it was us . . . We weren’t very good on third downs, weren’t taking care of the ball. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, meanwhile, dismantled a Giants secondary that played most of the game without Eli Apple (apparently benched, given that he played on special teams) and the second half without Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins, who fractured his forearm on a tackle late in the second quarter.

As soon as Collins left the field, Drew Stanton hit Fitzgerald with a 13-yard touchdown pass to make it 10-0 with 1:01 left in the first half. Fitzgerald finished with nine catches for 119 yards in what might have been the final home game of his career.

Stanton hit John Brown with a 15-yard touchdown pass to open the second half and give the Cardinals a 16-0 lead (the extra point was no good). On the first play of the fourth quarter, Cardinals safety Deone Bucannon came untouched up the middle and knocked the ball out of Manning’s hands. Robert Nkemdiche recovered it and ran 21 yards for a touchdown to make it 23-0.

“It was a simple message to the team afterward: In this league, you can’t win games if you beat yourself, and that’s what I thought happened today,” interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “Penalties [10 for 101 yards] certainly killed us in all three phases . . . It begins and ends there, to be quite honest with you.”

Soon enough, it will all be over.

“Obviously, I think for older players, it’s tougher to go through a season where you’ve been out of the playoffs for a while and the team’s struggling,” Manning said. “You only have so many more opportunities left. So it’s been tough. But yeah, I think after next week, we’ll just kind of look forward to moving on.”

Notes & quotes: Rookie tight end Evan Engram left the game in the first half with a rib injury. He appeared to first hurt it on a deep pass intended for him that was intercepted by Antoine Bethea, but he returned to play the next series before leaving the game for good . . . Fitzgerald completed his first career pass when he took an end-around handoff and threw a 21-yarder to Jaron Brown . . . Giants wide receiver Roger Lewis Jr. made a pretty one-handed catch down the left sideline in the first half . . . The Cardinals are 7-8.

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