These are fearful times for Giants fans, and here is the big fear: We are witnessing the premature unraveling of Eli Manning's career. That's how bad Eli played yesterday. Excuses can be made on his behalf, if you're so inclined, and the very same excuses could have been made last week and the week before. Yes, Eli was occasionally victimized by his teammates' blunders and miscues. Yes, the inexperienced receivers are failing to make progress and, in fact, seem to be regressing every week. Yes, the play-calling seemed tame and uninspired, and the pass protection broke down badly in a few key spots. But so what? That's life in the NFL. What was most dispiriting about Eli's play is that he didn't appear to be in control. He couldn't move the team even for symbolic accomplishments when the game was out of reach. He sulked instead of trying to rally his teammates. He got thoroughly waxed by a team that lost to the Oakland Raiders.
Manning has what could be his last chance to rescue his season next week at home against the Chargers, who beat the Raiders yesterday but didn't totally dominate them. Among their various issues, the Chargers do not defend the run well, which means the game plan ought to be to grind it out with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw on the ground, and give Eli a bit of a break. But if for some reason the Giants can't do that — because, say, their secondary gets shredded again, which, let's face it, is probably going to happen — then we'll be back to Air Eli and all the unpredictability that entails. Here's a tip for Manning and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride: Consider throwing to Jacobs and Bradshaw, who have caught fewer than twenty balls between them so far this season. These guys are big-play studs. The ball has got to find its way into their hands more often.
Assuming the Giants can squeeze out a victory against San Diego, they'll go into their bye week 6–3, with a chance to repair Eli's shattered confidence, not to mention ours, and make a strong run at the playoffs. At this moment, still fresh from yesterday's drubbing, we feel like Manning does when the pocket starts to close in on him — which is to say, panicked and prone to do something foolish. If we have to endure another performance like yesterday's, we'll be tempted to turn our attention to the games that are played on Saturday, and make the next Eli column about whice quarterback the Giants can pick in next year's draft.