The New York Giants put themselves in position to make December important. But they started the month on the wrong foot, falling 24-14 to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field and ending their six-game winning streak.
The final quarter of the season doesn't get any easier. Next up is a primetime NFC East showdown with the Dallas Cowboys, who own the best record in the NFL.
"It was a tough night at the office," coach Ben McAdoo said. "We know that's not good enough. I have to do a better job getting these guys ready to play. We have to rebound fast. I give credit to the Steelers. They played a good game."
IT WAS OVER WHEN
Down by 14 points with seven minutes left in the game, the Giants were running out of chances. Their last hope was a fourth-and-nine at the Steelers' 24, but Eli Manning would never get the pass off as he was sacked by Ricardo Mathews. Le'Veon Bell, who finished with 118 yards rushing and 64 yards receiving, then helped the Steelers chew up more than five minutes off the clock on the ensuing possession, resulting in a 38-yard field goal by Randy Bullock to ice the game after the two-minute warning.
The Giants were 0-for-3 on fourth down and 2-for-4 in the red zone, where Manning threw his first of two interceptions while trying to find tight end Larry Donnell in the end zone from nine yards out. The Giants are still 12th in the NFL in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 59.4 percent of their trips. They had converted all nine of their opportunities over the previous four games.
AROUND THE LOCKER ROOM
"It really came down to those two red zones trips. We had no points off of it. The interception and then the fourth down, it's tough out there but we got down there. We have been really good scoring touchdowns lately, the last three or four games we have been one hundred percent scoring touchdowns, but not today. Not just scoring touchdowns, not getting anything on two drives, that was kind of the game right there." – Manning
"I think everything will gel and it will all click at some point. It just needs to be soon, whether it is next week, tomorrow or the next day. It just needs to be very soon with the team we have coming in, because they are red hot. We need to help our defense out." – WR Odell Beckham Jr.
"Yes, it was frustrating, especially when I'm sitting out. It sucks just watching in the locker room, but it is what it is." DE Jason Pierre-Paul (left in the second quarter with a groin injury)
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS FOR THE GIANTS
While the Giants' longest winning streak since 2008 came to end on Sunday, they still held onto the first Wild Card spot as Washington (6-5-1) and Minnesota (6-6) both lost in Week 13. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay (7-5) moved into the sixth and final playoff opening in the NFC after winning its fourth game in a row. But everyone is still chasing Dallas (11-1). The Cowboys clinched the first playoff berth of the 2016 NFL season after notching their 11th consecutive victory. Their only loss was to Big Blue in Week 1.
"We are who we are right now," said McAdoo, whose team faces the 8-4 Lions after the Cowboys. "We need to go back to work. You can't just flip a switch and have things change. You have to put work into it. It has to pay dividends for you."
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR THE STEELERS
Following a four-game losing streak, the Steelers have pieced together a three-game winning streak as they try to climb back into postseason contention. At 7-5, they are second in the AFC North with a Week 9 loss to first-place Baltimore (7-5) on their record. Pittsburgh now goes on the road for two weeks to play Buffalo (6-6) and Cincinnati (4-7-1) before wrapping up the season with home games against Baltimore and Cleveland (0-12).
"I don't [pay attention to what Baltimore is doing] because I know that if we handle the business in our stadium, we don't have to look outside at Baltimore or anyone else," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We're going to stay singularly focused on that. Because I would imagine at some point we'll be in the stadium with those guys."