The New York Giants have overcome long odds before, but this might be insurmountable. Since 1990, only three teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-3—and zero since 1999.
Yes, the Giants have a knack for feeding off of doubt, but the G-Men aren't just any old 0-3 team.
They're an 0-3 team coming off of their worst loss in almost a decade and the most lopsided defeat of head coach Tom Coughlin's career. They're 0-3 with a point differential of minus-61, which is only a field goal ahead of the historically abysmal Jacksonville Jaguars. They're 0-3 with a league-high 115 points against (no other NFL team has given up 100).
And they're 0-3 this season but actually 1-5 in their last six games overall. In those five losses, they've been outscored 182-68.
What happened Sunday in Carolina confirmed that, right now, the Giants are the worst team in the NFC. Minnesota, Washington and Tampa Bay are all 0-3 as well, but at least they've been competing. Outside of Jacksonville, no team has looked less NFL-worthy this season than Big Blue.
It makes it hard to believe that these guys were Super Bowl champions 19 months ago. Let's break down exactly what is making the Giants so bad right now.
Seriously, everything. That's what wide receiver Victor Cruz said went wrong in that 38-0 Week 3 fiasco in Charlotte.
"Everything. We couldn't get anything going. We had no rhythm," Cruz said after the game, per Conor Orr of the Newark Star-Ledger. "We couldn’t put no points on the board. Everything went wrong."
2. But more specifically, the offense
Yeah, the offense is causing more problems than the defense. Eli Manning, Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and David Wilson were supposed to save that vulnerable D this season, but that clearly hasn't been the case.
The Giants have turned the ball over a league-high 13 times (nobody else has more than 10), and their running game ranks dead last in the NFL.
3. But more than anything, it's the lack of offensive balance
It's 2013, guys. Teams have and will continue to succeed without possessing strong running games. But those teams will have to be better elsewhere. The Giants aren't good enough to get away with averaging 44.3 rushing yards per game and 2.7 per carry.
Wilson was supposed to break out in his second season, but the 2012 first-round pick is still somewhat trapped in the Coughlin doghouse and has barely been noticeable when off leash. He's averaging exactly three yards per carry.
And with just six yards on 10 carries, Brandon Jacobs has failed to play the savior role.
Defenses have been able to focus entirely on Manning and the passing game.
4. The pass protection is also a major area of concern
Those six first-half sacks sunk the Giants Sunday. And when all was said and done, they surrendered seven sacks to a defense that had just three in its first two games.
Here's left tackle Will Beatty getting dominated by Greg Hardy directly at the snap:
And on the very next play from scrimmage, here's right tackle Justin Pugh getting manhandled by Thomas Davis:
And Pugh and Beatty both looked helpless against yet another basic four-man rush on the sixth sack, which came only a few plays later:
Beatty is decent despite that shabby Week 3 effort, but he's not a star. Right guard Chris Snee is too old, while Pugh is too young. Center David Baas lacks consistency, and we can forget about the washed-up David Diehl.
The Giants were dominated in the trenches against Carolina. The defensive front had just six pressures while the offensive line gave up 22, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). And three weeks into the year, they've given up just about twice as much pressure as they've been able to create.
On top of everything, those ancillary pass protectors aren't where they need to be. Ahmad Bradshaw was one of the best pass-blocking halfbacks in the game, but he's been replaced by Wilson, who continues to be a liability. Same thing goes for the swap at tight end from Martellus Bennett to Brandon Myers. And fullback Henry Hynoski is hurt again.
At this rate, Manning will be extremely lucky to make it through the season without injury.
5. And don't let Manning or his receivers off the hook
Above, we only showed three of the six first-half sacks from the Carolina game. Why?
Because the other three were essentially coverage sacks.
That's right, coverage sacks. Three of 'em. Against a secondary that was ravaged by injuries. Against a secondary that made EJ Manuel look like John Elway in Week 2. Against a secondary that employed Drayton Florence (who wasn't on the roster as recently as Wednesday) and Robert Lester as Week 3 starters.
Who's Robert Lester? Exactly.
Nicks failed to catch a pass for only the second time in his career. Cruz caught just three of the eight balls thrown his way. Nobody could get open.
Manning is probably less at fault than he was in the first two weeks, but he still threw a silly pick into impossibly tight coverage and continues to lead the league in that category.
Again, the support isn't there at all, but elite quarterbacks find ways to hang in. Manning isn't hanging in at all. His passer rating of 70.5 ranks 27th in the NFL, just ahead of Chad Henne.
6. Plus, that entire defense lacks bite
When the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007, Manning was given the lion's share of the credit. He deserved a ton, but they wouldn't have come close to the Lombardi Trophy that year if not for a pass rush that led the NFL with a sack percentage of 9.2.
And when they got back to the Super Bowl in 2011, they were ranked third in the NFL with 48 sacks. Justin Tuck might have been their best player in 2007, and Jason Pierre-Paul was certainly their most dominant cog during title run No. 2.
This year, the Giants have just three sacks in three games.
Considering that this unit as a whole gave up the second-worst yardage total in the league last year, and considering, too, that they're currently and/or permanently without Osi Umenyiora, Chris Canty, Michael Boley, Chase Blackburn, Kenny Phillips and Corey Webster, they absolutely need the defensive front to get constant pressure.
Pierre-Paul isn't himself after offseason back surgery, and Tuck is over the hill. That linebacking corps might be the worst in football, and there's only so much poor Antrel Rolle and poorer Prince Amukamara can do to hold the secondary together.
As a result, a defense that has managed just 12 total pressures and one sack in the last two weeks has surrendered an average of 36 points per game during that stretch.
With spare parts like Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Ross and Keith Rivers playing major roles, it's not surprising that this D has failed to get the job done. But it's become uglier than expected.
7. An overall lack of talent could be factoring in
We mentioned Jenkins (who was released by Philadelphia), Ross (released by the Jaguars) and Rivers. The best player in that linebacking corps—whoever that is—probably wouldn't start in most other NFL cities.
Terrell Thomas? Ryan Mundy? Mark Herzlich doesn't deserve a roster spot, let alone starting snaps. He's been terrible, as has Jacquian Williams, who was embarrassingly trucked three yards backwards by Cam Newton on a second-half touchdown Sunday.
And that's just the defense. We've touched on the O-line and the lack of talent in the backfield. I just don't understand how anyone can look at this roster and conclude that the Giants should be much better than 0-3.
What's scary is that the Giants are usually strong starters. In fact, they've started 5-2 or better in each and every season since Coughlin was hired in 2004. That, of course, is impossible now.
It is possible that this year will be the reverse, with the Giants starting slow and then excelling in November. And with Coughlin and Manning, nothing should ever be ruled out until the fat lady has hit her first note.
That said, the early returns are so troubling that all signs point to a lost season and a major retooling in the new year.
And that Super Bowl countdown clock they installed in the locker room? Nothing but a sick joke now, because this Giants team is almost guaranteed to be watching New York's first-ever Super Bowl on television.