If you hadn't already turned off your set and renounced your emotional ties to the team by that point in the game, you're probably imagined that Curtis Painter replaced Eli Manning with 1:43 left in the fourth quarter. It was no mirage. On the fourth pass attempt of his Big Blue debut, Painter chucked his first interception as a New York Giant.
I know the Giants already looked god-awful the last time they took the field, but can you fathom how much worse they would be if Painter were suddenly shoved into action.
Manning's all this team's got left. And New York isn't taking care of its most prized possession.
The Giants' steadfast signal-caller has remained standing for nearly a decade, but he took a few tough shots against Carolina that might've have kept other QBs down. A Giants fan's heart skips a beat every time Manning is planted, yet he's always able to peel himself off the turf.
Well, not always. Remember Week 2 of the 2007 season? The Giants lost 45-35 to the Dallas Cowboys, and Manning didn't finish the Game—Jared Lorenzen did. That's right, the hefty lefty played relief pitcher while the starter nursed a shoulder injury. Of course, Manning found a way to start the very next week, and thus lived on what is now the league's longest active consecutive-start streak by a quarterback.
Not every game can be like the 2011 NFC Championship Game versus the San Francisco 49ers, in which Manning casually retucked his pads into his jersey or picked sod from his face mask after seemingly all of his dropbacks in the second half. To not turn the ball over once was nothing short of miraculous.
But that second half has become the standard for Manning in 2013. After protecting the passer well last season, allowing a league-low 20 sacks, the Giants' O-line now is in shambles. The Panthers set a team-record with seven sacks of Manning in Week 3. Three came courtesy of Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy.
Hardy, who also had eight tackles, manhandled Giants left tackle Will Beatty, the man who was paid a premier blindside blocker's salary over the offseason. As I watched Beatty chase Hardy all Sunday, I could think of 38.75 million reasons why he wasn't worthy of that type of money.
But, hey, all touchdown-nullifying, momentum-killing holding penalties aside, Beatty wasn't the only O-lineman to turn in a crappy day's work. Center David Baas was just as pathetic, and Chris Snee is really starting to show his age. And don't forget about the rookie Justin Pugh, who is starting out on the right edge.
Throw in an unstable backfield—which currently features an injured fullback, an off-the-couch version of a former Super Bowl star and a second-year locomotive that just can't get on track—and you can probably hear the sound of Eli's bones crunching as you read this.
Don't worry, folks, David Diehl is coming to the rescue:
Yet Manning is willing to take on more. He keeps talking about a "spark" that the team seems to be missing (via ESPN New York). Although he's already averaging nearly 40 attempts per game, Manning believes he can do more. He's even willing to do the unexpected to help his team win.
What does that even mean? Maybe he'll deliver another Costanza-level cringe-worthy shoulder pop, like the one he laid on the Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams in 2012, which made Williams the first—and likely only—defensive back in the NFL to be trucked by Eli Manning.
Eh, let's keep the "violent" impacts to a minimum. To be fair, that will be even tougher to do in Week 4. The Giants are facing the Kansas City Chiefs, who possess an attacking defense which ranks first (tied with New England Patriots) in the AFC in points allowed (34).
And the Chiefs are led by none other than Andy Reid, a head coach who sports a lengthy history with the Giants. He certainly hasn't forgotten the 49-7 walloping the G-Men served up in Reid's final game as the Philadelphia Eagles' commander in chief just nine months ago. Reid still may have the occasional nightmares about Manning's improbable fourth-quarter comeback victory in September of 2006.
Besting his former squad last week was an incredible accomplishment for Reid. Crushing the Giants would be a close second.
Reid has the defensive firepower to make it happen, too. If Carolina's Hardy was such a wrecking ball, think of how troublesome Kansas City's Justin Houston, who leads the NFL in sacks with 7.5, will prove to be. Good luck focusing on Houston with defensive tackle Dontari Poe and linebacker Tamba Hali also in the mix.
Into which one, exactly, is Manning to lay a shoulder?
New York must place a premium on protecting Manning in Week 4. It's the only chance the Giants have.