CHICAGO --** So many times, Eli Manning has put the Giants on his back and carried them to important and exhilarating victories. But now the shoulders of the two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback are burdened by the weight of a nightmarish start to the 2013 season.
|Instant Analysis: CHI 27, NYG 21
Giants.com breaks down the team's Thursday night loss...
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Manning threw three interceptions that boosted his NFL-leading total to 15, which matches the number of times opposing players caught his passes in 16 games in 2012.
"It's frustrating not winning," Manning said. "And it's frustrating because I don't feel like I'm doing my part to get this team some wins and some chances. That's the frustrating part. I feel like our guys are fighting hard. Guys are doing their parts, and I need to start doing mine."
Each pick had its own unhappy story. On the third play of the game, Manning's pass to Rueben Randle was intercepted by Zackary Bowman, who returned it to the Giants' 12-yard line. The turnover did not result in Chicago points, because Jay Cutler's fourth-down pass to Brandon Marshall from the four-yard line came up short.
On the ensuing possession, the Giants moved from their four to the 45. But immediately after catching a 20-yard pass, Randle apparently had a miscommunication with Manning, whose pass was picked off by Tim Jennings and returned 48 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Bears lead.
But the Giants hung in, thanks to Manning's 37-yard touchdown pass to Randle, Brandon Jacobs' two scores and a defense that allowed only three points in the second half after giving up 17 in the first. The defense forced a punt and the Giants took possession at their own 11 with 5:21 remaining and all three of their timeouts.
This was Manning Time. He has excelled as few quarterbacks have in these situations, with the outcome hanging in the balance as the seconds wind down late in a game. In the regular season, he has led the Giants to 23 victories in games in which they rallied from fourth-quarter deficits or ties. Manning has done it five more times in the playoffs, including two thrilling Super Bowls. The situation was set for Manning to burnish his reputation as a great clutch performer.
Tom Coughlin was certain it would happen.
"Absolutely, I'm fully confident," Coughlin said. "The same thing that we said in Dallas (in the season opener) when it was 30-24. We had the ball in the middle of the field, I'm very, very confident that we're going to go score and win the game. And I'll continue to be."
"We've been together for a long time and I've seen him do some remarkable, remarkable things on the football field when all the odds have been against him," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "You just always believe and feel like he's going to turn that corner. It seemed that way with the rough start in the first quarter, he got in a groove right there and led us to back-to-back scores to get back in the game. He's leading us down in those final minutes in the fourth quarter and it just seemed like this was the time we were going to get over the hump. But it wasn't to be tonight."
Manning was confident it would be.
"We've been very good in the fourth quarter over the years, and we've been able to respond," Manning said. "We have played these types of games, where you get down a little bit, but you fight back. You get to the fourth quarter, you make those drives, and you win the game."
The Giants looked like they might do that as they bled the clock by keeping the ball mostly on the ground. They faced a second-and-nine at the Bears' 35 when Manning threw to tight end Brandon Myers. The ball glanced off Myers' fingertips and into the hands of Jennings with 1:54 left. Chicago ran out the clock and the Giants filed into another silent locker room.
"I obviously threw the ball a little too high," Manning said. "I had a guy open, and felt that the ball came out how I wanted it to. I just obviously threw it a little too high. It's unfortunate – I thought we were going to make a drive and win the game, and you know, I made a mistake."
Manning was asked if he tried to avoid linebackers when he made the high throw.
"No, it was zone, so you don't want the linebacker to make a play," he said. "You don't want to float it too much because the corner is going to try to midline it and he is going to come over the top and try to make a play if you throw it too high. So you try to throw it high, but put something on it. Obviously, I threw it too high.
"Again, I thought guys did their jobs. We got down there and made plays, had some third-down conversions and did some good things. We saw the coverage, and everybody did the right thing. Obviously, you throw a ball six inches too high, and that's the difference between possibly winning the game and a loss."
Six inches might well be the difference between Manning being the game's hero or having to answer pointed questions in a postgame news conference.
"It's difficult," he said. "I feel bad for my teammates. I feel bad for my coaches. Everybody is fighting every day, and I'm fighting, too. I'm trying to get a win for these guys, but you know, it's tough. It's definitely tough at times when you don't feel like you're playing your best."
Manning is clearly carrying a heavy burden. But is that fair for him to assume it alone?
"Absolutely not," Tuck said. "That just tells you what kind of stand-up guy he is and what kind of leader he is. He's in a rut right now and so is this team. I think all of us have to look at ourselves and look at our performance and figure out ways we can do more and do better because we have a lot more in us than we've shown. We played decent tonight, but there's no reason we couldn't have played a whole lot better."
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It's been a long time since Manning endured a stretch like this. In 2004, he lost the first six starts of his career while throwing eight interceptions and just three touchdown passes. But now he' a 10-year veteran with two world championship rings. More is expected of him. So how do the Giants get him to playing at the level that established him as one of the NFL's best?
"Well you just continue to support him, to point out the issues, to try to understand how it happens so that it doesn't happen again," Coughlin said. "You coach him just like you coach anybody who's had some issues. He's trying as hard as he can to stay away from the interceptions as well, but you're not going to go back to not throwing the football. That's not something that's going to happen. He's been too successful for so many years throwing the ball."
Manning must be successful again if the Giants are to somehow salvage this season. They get their next chance on Monday night, Oct. 21, at home vs. Minnesota.