By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The New York Giants are playing bad football. However, that does not mean they are incapable of stealing an NFL game.
They have put some awful clinkers on the board in their 0-5 start, including a 38-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers and a 31-7 beating handed down by the Chiefs. By comparison, the 36-21 loss to the Eagles on Sunday was a masterpiece for Tom Coughlin and his players.
Such is the state of New York Giants football.
But less than six weeks ago, the Giants were viewed as the favorites to get back to the top in the NFC East. They seemed to be a notch below the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, but if the Giants were going to be a playoff team – as they have been in five of the past eight seasons – the combination of Coughlin, quarterback Eli Manning and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul appeared to be one that could do damage in the postseason.
That’s almost certainly not going to work out. But funny things happen in the NFL. The Giants play in the weakest division in football. The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles lead the division with 2-3 records. The 0-5 Giants are only two games out of first place.
If they can beat the Bears on Thursday night, they have a home game against the Minnesota Vikings next and then a road game with the Eagles. The Vikings are not a good team and you know this because they signed Josh Freeman to take a shot at the quarterback position.
The Giants looked awful against the Eagles in the first half when they fell behind by a 19-7 margin, but they showed life in the third quarter when they outscored the Eagles 14-3 as Manning threw a pair of TD passes to Rueben Randle.
The Giants could not sustain their play in the fourth quarter, but what they did in the third quarter is a first step. It’s something to build on.
As the Giants continue to lose, notice Coughlin’s behavior. Normally this taciturn coach would be the first one to come down hard on his players. When the Giants are winning, he goes all Bill Parcells on his team and he is not shy about threatening players with a loss of playing time or their jobs.
But with the Giants losing every week, he is hunkering down and he is protecting his players. He is trying to take the focus off of them and put it on his own mistakes.
This is going to win him points in the New York lockerroom. They have played poorly and they haven’t won, but they haven’t quit and they are not about to.
They also get the benefit of going on the road. When you are a losing football team and you go on the road, the boos don’t cascade down from the upper deck. You have a chance to breathe, and that gives you a chance to play without humiliating yourself in front of your home fans.
Here’s what has to happen for the Giants to give the Bears a real game Thursday night. Manning has to stop turning the ball over. He has thrown for 1,482 yards with eight TDs and 12 interceptions. Many of those picks have been Eli’s fault. Not because he throws the ball into double coverage, but because his throws have been off-target.
Accuracy has not been an issue for Manning in the past. He has completed 59.9 percent of his passes or better in each of the last five years. That means he is capable of a turnaround.
Especially with receivers like Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Randle. Tight end Brandon Myers is not a star, but he can get open and has caught 18 passes this season.
The running game is not going to help the Giants, because the Giants are unlikely to have speedy David Wilson in the lineup. He suffered a neck injury against the Eagles. If he can play, he is a fumbler.
But the Giants are going to try to throw it. If Manning can avoid the interceptions that have dogged him, the Bears will likely find themselves in a four-quarter game Thursday night.
If the Bears were going to pressure Manning hard, the interceptions almost certainly would come. But the Bears have 8.0 sacks, and that ranks 30th in the league.
The Bears are a better team than the 0-5 Giants, probably by a sizable margin. But the Giants are good enough to win games in the NFL and they have the firepower to put points on the board. This game may be a lot harder than it looks for Chicago.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.