MINNEAPOLIS – The first seven times Eli Manning dropped back to pass Sunday night, he had three incompletions and an interception, was sacked twice, and was charged with a fumble when he couldn't handle a shotgun snap.
That rocky start proved to be a sad omen for Manning and the Giants. Forced to play without their best player, both the quarterback and his team played one of their worst games of the season, and fell to the Minnesota Vikings, 49-17, in TCF Bank Stadium.
The Giants, who were eliminated from the playoff race for the fourth consecutive season when Washington won Saturday night, lost for the fifth time in six games and fell to 6-9, guaranteeing their third straight losing season. Minnesota improved to 10-5 and clinched a playoff berth.
"(We are) disappointed that we're out of the playoffs this year," Manning said. "But still wanted to come out here and play well. We practiced all week, we had a game plan, we had prepared for this game. We wanted to come out and play well, and try to get a win and feel good about what we prepared to do for this week and this game."
It didn't happen. Playing without receiving star Odell Beckham Jr., who served his one-game NFL suspension, Manning completed his first pass four minutes into the second quarter, threw three interceptions, including one returned by Harrison Smith 35 yards for a touchdown, and saw the wide receivers catch a grand total of five of his 29 passes. With scant success throwing the ball, the Giants converted only 1-of-11 third down opportunities.
Manning typically blamed himself.
"I think the struggles were because I made some bad decisions, made some bad throws," he said. "Obviously, you lose one of your key players, it's going to affect things. But I don't think that was as big an impact as we led it on to be. We just didn't play well. They did a great job, and we didn't respond well."
Manning wasn't alone in not playing up to the standards he sets for himself.. Although the Vikings outgained the Giants by only five yards (368-363), they
benefitted from both timely and big plays. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was economically effective, completing 15 of 25 passes for 168 yards, including a 28-yarder to tight end Kyle Rudolph for the game's first touchdown. Minnesota ran for 218 yards, 193 of them and three touchdowns by running backs Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon, who scored on a 68-yard run.
Blair Walsh kicked five field goals for the Vikings, including 52 and 53-yarders.
During one stretch spanning the second through fourth quarters, Minnesota scored on seven consecutive possessions (four field goals, three touchdowns).
"I didn't see this coming," coach Tom Coughlin said. "I thought this evening we put our defense in a terrible predicament with the turnovers, with either
touchdowns or the ball being right back to point blank range. … With (Washington's win) Saturday night, I didn't think that affected us by any means. We had talked about that as well, and I had said to our team that we had an opportunity to play for pride and play to regain some respect. I think everybody was on the same page. Tonight, it's just very difficult for me to explain, to be honest with you."
"No, I didn't see it coming," Manning said, echoing his coach. "I thought we'd be able to go out there and move the ball and put up some points and run our offense. It was tough to find completions early on and never got into a great rhythm. They did a great job getting us off the field on third down and getting some pressure in some situations. We just couldn't get things going, then the turnovers started to occur."
The Giants scored on Manning's 72-yard pass to Rueben Randle, who caught ball at the 30-yard line and stayed on his feet despite a crushing hit by safety Andrew Sendejo; backup Ryan Nassib's 25-yard scoring throw to Myles White; and Josh Brown's 27-yard field goal.
After the game, the players expressed disgust regarding their performance, and the outcome.
"Coming into the game, we knew we needed a win and you've still got a lot to play for," defensive tackle Cullen
Jenkins said. "Still didn't want a losing record. We still had a chance to finish 8-8 on the year. You've got to play for more than just what your personal feelings may be. It's real frustrating just to see everything just unwind and just go the way it went. Then there was just no stop to it. Real frustrating."
"That game just got away from us," said running back Rashad Jennings, who had 136 total yards, including 74 on the ground and a 50-yard reception. "That's a hard one to swallow, man. That's a tough one, to get beat like that on national TV, Sunday night. There's a lot to play for every single game. I understand, I get it from the outside; (we're) not going to the playoffs, I understand. But every single time you're on the field, you've got a lot to play for. It's disappointing not to put our best foot forward and play our best game against a team that's going to the playoffs."
Numerous players supported Coughlin, who has absorbed criticism from numerous sources as the Giants' season has descended into another non-playoff
"I just feel embarrassed, because we went out and did this under his watch," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "He's always giving us 100 percent, and he's always put himself on the line. I feel embarrassed for ourselves and for myself. I feel embarrassed for this organization. My years here, my five years here, every year I've been realizing this really is a Giants family. When you walk in the building, you get greeted by the Maras and the Tisches. Since my five years of being here, when you build that comradery, and you build that family atmosphere, you have to look them in the eye the next day. And you just feel like you let them down, especially after this type of performance."
The Giants have one game remaining, at home next Sunday vs. Philadelphia. Each team is 6-9. The winner finishes second in the NFC East. It's not a position the Giants set out to claim. But right now, it very much beats third place and a double-digit loss season.
"We have one week to go," Coughlin said. "There's some soul-searching that has to be done on everybody's part - players, coaches, me. It's certainly very untimely to have this happen out of this group of guys, no doubt. And I'll say it again, I didn't see it coming."
Photos from Giants Sunday night matchup vs. the Minnesota Vikings