After three consecutive losses, most NFL teams and their fan bases would be ready to hit the panic button. That cause for concern would probably be heightened when realizing that the preceding 5-0 start was aided with wins against Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Oakland and Washington. Not exactly the Four Horsemen.
Or even four really tough ponies.
The reeling franchise in this case, the New York Giants, does have a victory against the Cowboys this season. However, even that win can be scrutinized. Dallas rolled up 251 yards rushing in a game the Giants won by two points.
During the past three games, the Giants have been pushed around by New Orleans, Arizona and Philadelphia to the tune of a combined 112-61. In fact, going back to last year, the Giants have lost seven of their past nine games (including the playoff contest to Philadelphia) against teams with winning records. The only other victory beside Dallas was a wild overtime decision over Carolina last season.
If that's not grounds for panic, at least it should lead to some anxiety problems.
"To me, they've lost they're identity as a team," one NFC executive said. "Yeah, the stats are pretty good, but that's because of those lopsided games. Those teams are horrendous, almost uncompetitive. Any kind of statistical measure from those games … it's meaningless.
"What I see – and I'm shocked by this, frankly – is that the defensive front is soft and the running game is not imposing its will the way the Giants did the past two years. Really, that shocks me. If nothing else, I was expecting their defense and running game to be dominating."
Said an assistant coach from a team that has faced the Giants: "[Defensive lineman Justin] Tuck isn't playing the way he did last year, but that shouldn't be that big a deal. They're deep enough that they should still be really good in the front seven. They're not right now. I still think they can fix it, particularly when [defensive tackle Chris] Canty gets back and they get back to the depth they wanted. But right now, they don't impose their will on anybody like they did last year. At least not against good teams."
The other issue that has come up over the past three weeks is that the Giants, who have gone from first place to third in the NFC East, are leaning too heavily on quarterback Eli Manning(notes). For only the second time since the beginning of the 2007 season, Manning has attempted at least 30 passes in three consecutive games. The last time he aired the ball so frequently (in the 2007 championship campaign), the Giants lost two of the three games. The lone win was a six-point decision against Detroit.
The Giants are a classic running team behind their brutish offensive line and monstrous back in Brandon Jacobs(notes). While Manning has taken significant strides over the past three years, he is still prone to the occasional yips. During the past three games, he has six interceptions, including two really bad ones against Philadelphia on Sunday.
"The second one of those was classic Bad Eli," the NFC executive said. "He floated one right over the wide receiver to nowhere and it gets picked. … It's not that Eli takes stupid chances. … But what he does is he'll just have this lapse. It's like he just loses concentration. It was worse early in his career and we all thought that he turned it around after the playoffs and the Super Bowl [in 2007]. But it's still there."
Ultimately, if the Giants can't get back to being a tough team on both defense and offense, it's going to be a rough ride – particularly over the next five games. Even though four of those games are at home and the Giants have a bye along the way, facing San Diego, Atlanta, Denver, Philadelphia and Dallas could make for an early end to the season.
And real panic.
Stupid play of the week: Before we make this point, let's be clear that Miami coach Tony Sparano has done an excellent overall job with the Dolphins in the nearly one-and-a-half seasons he has been in charge. However, as his mentor Bill Parcells needed to have an assistant coach to help with game situations (Ray Handley way back in the day), Sparano needs some help on that front as well. A week after botching a timeout situation against New Orleans, Sparano botched a two-point conversion decision after going up 30-19 in the fourth quarter Sunday against the New York Jets. Instead of going for the PAT to get a 12-point lead, which would have forced the Jets to score two touchdowns or a TD and two field goals over the final 8:48 to win, Sparano went for two. Instead, when the Dolphins missed, they could have allowed the Jets to tie the game with a field goal and a touchdown followed by a two-point conversion. Fortunately for the Dolphins, the Jets missed on a two-point conversion after an ensuing touchdown and allowed Miami to hold on for a 30-25 win.
1. New Orleans Saints (7-0): Falcons game was the first game decided by less than 10 points. Stunning.
2. Indianapolis Colts (7-0): The record is spotless, but only one opponent in that run has a winning record.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2): Three of next four games feature Denver, Cincy and Baltimore.
4. Minnesota Vikings (7-1): That pass rush is unbelievably good.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (5-2): Doesn't anybody want to cover DeSean Jackson(notes)?
28. Oakland Raiders (2-6): Uh, JaMarcus Russell(notes), that performance was nowhere close to decent.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (1-6): Bringing Larry Johnson(notes) back to the locker room is a bad idea.
30. Detroit Lions (1-6): Did the Rams a favor by not sending them toward 20 straight losses?
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7): If the Bucs played as tough as ownership talks, they might not be 0-7.
32. Cleveland Browns (1-7): How can you not go back to Brady Quinn(notes) by now?
This and that
• While there are some people who believe the firing of Cleveland GM George Kokinis on Monday will help coach Eric Mangini survive another season, don't buy that thinking. Browns owner Randy Lerner is earnestly evaluating how he gets advice on running team (thankfully, he's actually talking to football people now) and it's fair to expect he'll be advised that Mangini must go. Mangini's inability to work with players such as Kellen Winslow(notes) and Braylon Edwards(notes) will be huge marks against him.
• Going back to the Dolphins-Saints game from Oct. 25: NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira will talk to the league's competition committee about the call at the end of the first half that allowed the Saints to ultimately get a touchdown. In short, the Saints threw for the end zone at the end of the half without a timeout to stop the clock. The play was initially ruled a touchdown on a pass from Drew Brees(notes) to Marques Colston(notes), but the call was reversed by instant replay when it showed that Colston was down at the 1-yard line. However, if the play had been called correctly from the start, the Saints would have likely run out of time before getting off another snap. As it was, they got an additional five seconds and Brees scored on a sneak, helping the Saints rebound for a win after being down 24-3. Said Pereira: "The situation will be reviewed with the Competition Committee in the offseason. There really is nothing further to add at this point other than that the exact scenario you present is definitely worthy of discussion by the committee to see if they have thoughts on potential ways to approach this differently, if there are any."
• Supporters of Rush Limbaugh continue to make a case that singer Fergie shouldn't be allowed to be a part-owner of the Dolphins even though she was recently approved by rest of the league. An argument has been made that the singer has performed lyrics that are far more offensive than statements made by Limbaugh. Given the backlash surrounding Limbaugh's controversial potential bid to become part-owner of the Rams, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross might be wise to say no thanks to Fergie (she has yet to officially make the transaction). Also, by way of explanation, Jennifer Lopez (who has used similarly questionable lyrics) is not formally a part-owner of the Dolphins. The ownership belongs to her husband, Marc Anthony.
•Good friend and stathead extraordinaire Dutch Wydo hosted a terrific interview with Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes) last Saturday on WMBS 590 in Pittsburgh. Wydo is one of the few journalists to really get Roethlisberger to come out of his hard shell of cliché answers. That included Roethlisberger saying that he sometimes gets frustrated with the way his career has been covered. "I'll probably never get credit for being a quarterback. I'll probably just get credit for finding ways to win. I'll take that," Roethlisberger said.