Throughout the myriad of problems the New York Giants have faced this season — a porous offensive line, the lack of a running game, the inability to get sufficient pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and special teams mistakes — turnovers, especially interceptions, have been the biggest common denominator in keeping them winless.
It was no different on Thursday night at Soldier Field, as quarterback Eli Manning (14-for-26, 239 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions) started with his 13th and 14th picks of the year and finished with a league-high 15th on New York’s final drive, as the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears (4-2) held the Giants (0-6) off, 27-21.
The 15 interceptions are the most in the first six weeks of an NFL season for any quarterback since Hall of Famer Dan Fouts was picked off just as many times in 1986. And they’re the main reason New York has dropped the first half-dozen games of a season for only the second time in its history (the other time was in 1976).
Throw in a couple of lost fumbles, and Manning ended the game with 17 giveaways, the most in NFL history over a six-game span.
Frustrated head coach Tom Coughlin said simply, “We played hard, we fought, we did a lot of good things. We didn’t do enough.”
The Giants, in fact, did do some things better, particularly with holding the Bears scoreless after Chicago opened the second half with a field goal drive that pushed its lead to a game-high 27-14; and with finally getting its ground game going.
With a season-high 123 rushing yards, New York more than doubled the league-worst 56.8-yard average it carried into the contest, behind an impressive 22-carry, 106-yard, two-touchdown effort from running back Brandon Jacobs, who in his second stint as a Giant, finally broke out and looked more like the two-time 1,000-yard rusher he was in 2007 and 2008.
Prior to that, Manning, who threw interceptions on three consecutive fourth-quarter drives, during his team’s home loss to Philadelphia last week, tossed a couple more on New York’s first two possessions.
Manning’s defense bailed him out the first time, with a goal line stand that kept the game scoreless.
But on the Giants’ next drive, miscommunication between Manning and wide receiver Reuben Randle (three catches, 75 yards, one touchdown) led to an easy 48-yard pick-six for cornerback Tim Jennings (one tackle, four pass deflections, one interception, one touchdown) and a 7-0 Bears lead.
The teams then traded four straight touchdown drives of at least 80 yards, after which Chicago led, 21-14.
Rebounding from the two early picks, Manning threw three times and completed two 16-yard passes in a row before adding a 17-yard completion, and Jacobs rushed five times for 28 yards, while capping an 80-yard drive with a powerful, leg-churning, four-yard touchdown run.
Answering early in the second quarter, quarterback Jay Cutler (24-for-36, 262 yards, two touchdowns) moved the Bears ahead on a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon Marshall (nine catches, 87 yards, two touchdowns).
New York even the game up again on 37-yard touchdown throw from Manning to Randle, who did a nice job at the end of the play to fight his way just into the end zone along the right sideline.
However, Cutler immediately led Chicago back down the field and put the Bears back up by a touchdown on a three-yard scoring toss to Marshall.
An ensuing 46-yard kickoff return by Jerrel Jernigan set the Giants up well, but they went three-and-out when Manning threw high and a little behind wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (four catches, 70 yards) on 3rd-and-3 from the Bears’ 47-yard line.
Keep that play in mind, as a similar one later, would seal New York’s fate.
Moving 58 yards on 10 plays, the Bears pushed their lead to 24-14 on a 40-yard field goal by kicker Robbie Gould with two seconds left before halftime.
Holding the Chicago to three straight punts after a 52-yard field goal by Gould early in the third quarter, the Giants punted on their first drives of the third and fourth quarters, but in between, they marched 91 yards on nine plays, over 5:15, with Manning completing passes of 31 yards to Nicks and 18 yards to Randle.
The latter of those two plays nearly ended with a mental blunder by Randle, which recalled memories of a key play two years ago, by current wide receiver Victor Cruz (four catches, 68 yards), during a Week 4 win in Arizona, in 2011.
Back then, Cruz fell to the ground late in the game, and left the ball there without being touched down. Had the play been ruled a fumble, New York would have lost, and likely finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. Instead, the Giants kept possession, scored, went on to win, and won the NFC East at 9-7, before going on to their second unlikely Super Bowl championship run in five years.
Similarly, Randle, in frustration, slammed the ball on the ground without being touched, after he slipped on the turf. Like Cruz, he was ruled as having given himself up, and ironically, it was Cruz who drew a pass interference flag on Jennings two plays later, which set up a one-yard touchdown plunge by Jacobs that brought the Giants within 27-21, with six seconds left in the third period.
Two New York possessions later, Jacobs got the Giants out of a hole with a 14-yard, first-down run to their won 25-yard line. He added a 12-yard run into Bears territory and fellow running back Da’Rel Scott (four carries, 17 yards) surprised Chicago with a 13-yard run, on a draw play, to the Bears’ 36-yard line.
Looking for tight end Brandon Myers (no catches, one target) in the red zone two plays later, Manning threw too high and slightly behind Myers, who had the ball glance off of his hand as he reached upward.
“It felt like it came out like I wanted it to, just threw it a little too high,” said Manning.
Waiting right there to pick Manning off for a second time, was Jennings, at his own 10-yard line.
Taking over with 1:54 left, the Bears were able to run out the clock and send New York into its home Monday Night Football matchup with Minnesota (1-3) next week, seeking its first win since the opening week of the preseason.
“It’s frustrating not winning and I feel like I’m not doing my part,” said Manning. “Our guys are fighting hard and doing their parts… and I need to start doing mine.”
With a pair of Super Bowl MVPs and more than 33,000 career passing yards on his resume, Manning is certainly capable of that. But with many other issues to fix throughout the team, and with no wins yet, it may already be too late.