It has been customary and mostly fair to point out the New York Giants' myriad flaws — brutal offensive line, no pass rush, banged-up secondary, vacant run game — in the reasons why the team has failed to win a game to this point in the season.
Now, really, no one is above reproach. Fans, in part, already have turned on head coach Tom Coughlin, wondering if the game has passed him by (in the past eight months?). And now their target is bigger game: the quarterback. Eli Manning and his league-worst 12 interceptions have come under fire, and even the coach thinks an adjustment must be made.
Coughlin said after the Giants' 36-21 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that Manning's crucial, costly mistakes were a big reason for turning a one-point deficit into a two-touchdown loss.
“I honestly believe that he’s trying so hard to get us a win, he’s almost put too much on himself,” Coughlin said. “He keeps it all pretty much inside. I’m not making excuses. There were a couple of those plays that were terrible."
Throw in two intentional grounding penalties and a 46-percent completion rate, and Manning had one of the worst afternoons of his career, as the Giants dropped their fifth straight game to open a season for the first time in a non-strike season since 1979.
Would Coughlin ever consider benching Manning? That question can be answered with another question: For who? It's not a matter of benching Manning, who remains the Giants' best hope to win another Super Bowl in the next few seasons. It's about getting his head right.
One of Manning's greatest strengths, which is what makes this whole thing so confounding right now, is that he never seems to let anything bother him. But Sunday, it was impossible not to see the utter frustration and struggle on his face, and it was clear that he was rattled out there. So how does Coughlin and his team help pick up his mentally vanquished quarterback?
"I don’t know what the answer is to that question," Coughlin said. "He never changes throughout the course of the week. As a matter of fact, he’s practiced really well for the last couple of weeks, very much in control of everything. But I do think that he’s trying so hard to make something happen that it’s going out the other end."
Manning's answer for his litany of mistakes when the game was close?
“Well, you’re trying to make plays and you’re trying to win,” he said.
That's a typical Manning response to a rather atypical Manning performance.
Short week for deep psychology. They head to Chicago for a Thursday night game against the Bears team that opened the season 3-0 but has dropped two straight. Manning isn't going to clear the deck of his problems before then, so the hope is that he can figure things out on the field.
Even, amazingly, as the team is a mere two games out of first in the NFC East, that seems like it's a long way from happening right now.