The New York Giants' 2013 campaign has been defined by injuries, blowout losses and Eli Manning turnovers. They did better at mitigating the former two, but the latter remains a problem that doesn't look like it's getting better anytime soon.
Manning threw three interceptions and the Giants defense allowed Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall to connect for two touchdowns, as the Chicago Bears held on late to defeat the Giants, 27-21, at Soldier Field on Thursday night.
Manning, who now has an NFL-high 15 picks this season, effectively cinched the game for Chicago late in the fourth quarter. With the Giants needing a touchdown to pull ahead and just over two minutes remaining, Manning led his offense to the Bears' 35-yard line before overthrowing tight end Brandon Myers, who tipped the pass into the hands of cornerback Tim Jennings.
New York Daily News reporter Ralph Vacchiano provided Tom Coughlin's perspective on the play:
Tom Coughlin on the final interception off Brandon Myers' hands: "It did touch his hands. It was a high ball, but it did touch his hands."— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) October 11, 2013
The pick was Jennings' second of the game; the first went for a 48-yard touchdown return to put the Bears ahead, 7-0, in the first quarter. Chicago now has four defensive touchdowns on the season—the most in the NFL. That comes a season after the Bears led all teams with nine defensive scores.
Manning also threw an interception on the Giants' first drive of the game. Zack Bowman, who was in the lineup because All-Pro Charles Tillman was inactive with a knee injury, returned the ball to the Giants' 12-yard line. That pick would go unrewarded when Cutler was unable to find Marshall on a 4th-and-2 from the 4-yard line.
It would be one of just two times all game that Cutler and Marshall would fail to connect. Marshall finished the game with nine receptions for 87 yards on 11 targets. He and Cutler scored the Bears' first offensive touchdown on a 10-yard pitch-and-catch to give the Bears a 14-7, and connected on a three-yard strike later in the quarter to put Chicago back ahead, 21-14, with 5:11 remaining in the half.
Thursday was the second straight solid outing for Cutler, who drew criticism after his three-interception effort against the Detroit Lions in Week 3. Facing minimal pressure from the Giants front four, Cutler completed 24 of 36 passes for 262 yards and the two TDs. Just three of Chicago's drives didn't go for at least 35 yards, and one of those was the Bears' final, clock-killing possession.
The Bears compiled 372 yards of total offense against a New York defense depleted by injury. Tight end Martellus Bennett had six catches for 68 yards and running back Matt Forte compiled 111 total yards, catching six balls out of the backfield for 44 yards. Cutler was able to keep the ball moving despite completing just one of five attempts to Alshon Jeffery, who was coming off a 218-yard performance last week.
Between Manning interceptions, the Giants did find offensive success of their own, particularly on the ground. Brandon Jacobs, the team's third starting RB of the season, had his first 100-yard rushing game since Dec. 11, 2011, carrying the ball 22 times for 106 yards. He scored from four yards out in the first quarter and one yard out in the third, the latter finalizing the score at 27-21.
The Giants are now 0-6 for the first time since 1976. While their effort was far better Thursday night, Manning's turnover struggles need to be rectified. He's now thrown as many interceptions (15) through six games this season as he did all of last year.
Vacchiano also provided Coughlin's perspective on the mood following the game:
Tom Coughlin: "The locker room is very disappointed. The guys are frustrated, very frustrated naturally. But they will stay together." #NYG— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) October 11, 2013
What's nice, at least from New York's perspective, is that it's not totally out of the playoff race. No team in the NFC East has more than two wins, which could continue if the Redskins defeat the Cowboys and the Eagles lose at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
On the other side, Marc Trestman's crew now holds a half-game lead in what looks like a competitive NFC North race. The Bears, Lions and Packers each have two losses, with Green Bay having had the benefit of a bye already this season. If Jay Cutler can continue minimizing his interceptions, Chicago should be as formidable as any team in the division.
Eli Manning (QB, New York Giants): D
Well, at least it wasn't all bad for Eli this week. The youngest Manning brother started the game miserably, throwing two picks in his first five passes. But one of those picks—Tim Jennings' pick-six—came on Rueben Randle's route-running miscue, and another went through Brandon Myers' hands.
After the miserable first quarter, Manning actually looked pretty good until that last pick. He made multiple long connections down the field against a Bears secondary sorely missing Charles Tillman, and converted on a series of key third downs on a touchdown drive in the third to keep New York in the game.
This is looking more and more like a lost season for Manning, as his team is 0-6 for the first time in almost four decades. The rest of the season may be more about job security than winning games. But if Manning can at least build on his solid outing after the first quarter, it might go a long way toward giving the Giants an air of respectability going forward.
Jay Cutler (QB, Chicago Bears): A
It's no secret that playing behind the Bears offensive line for these past five years hasn't been the most joyous of experiences for Cutler.
What that all obscures is how good he can be when he has more than milliseconds to throw. In Chicago's four wins this season, Cutler has been sacked only three times. He's also thrown eight touchdowns against only three interceptions in wins. In the two losses this season, though, Cutler has been sacked five times, fumbled twice and had the patented Cutler Game versus Detroit.
I'm not sure I have to spell out how anemic the Giants' pass rush was this week. Cutler was given enough time and opportunity in the pocket that nearly every NFL quarterback would have had a solid outing. Cutler responded by firing off a series of accurate, quick-strike throws that gave his receivers a chance to make plays after the catch.
Cutler wasn't at fault for last week's eight-point loss to the Saints, but Bears fans have to be pleased with this week's effort.
Brandon Jacobs (RB, New York Giants): A
Apparently, all it took was a return to the starting lineup for Brandon Jacobs to remember he's one of the biggest ball-carriers in league history. Jacobs ran with a prime level of purpose, inviting contact from the Bears' front seven and keeping his legs churning until the end of the play.
Although it seems obvious that someone of Jacobs' stature would run in such a fashion, that hadn't been the case of late. In 2011 with New York, Jacobs too often looked hesitant hitting holes and went down with minimal contact.
Even during the first few weeks of his return to the Giants this season, he struggled mightily. Tom Coughlin continually put him in the game in short-yard situations, only to see the 31-year-old back rack up a succession of losses or minimal gains—he had 11 carries for 11 yards his first three games.
On Thursday night, though, Jacobs showed flashes of the old days. With David Wilson out indefinitely with a neck injury and Da'Rel Scott apparently not having the full trust of Coughlin, it will be interesting to see whether Jacobs can keep this up going forward.
Brandon Marshall (WR, Chicago Bears): A
This just in: Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler enjoy playing with one another. A week after expressing frustration with the team's progress and offense, Marshall responded in kind with his best outing since back-to-back 100-yard games to start the season.
The Bears didn't do anything that revolutionary to get him the ball. Marshall ran a stream of intermediate routes, with the likes of Terrell Thomas unable to jam him at the line or blanket him well enough to make Cutler go to his second read.
Marshall's night was also worth noting because of his green cleats, which he wore to honor Mental Health Awareness Week. He'll be subject to a fine from the NFL, but he might want to start making this a regular thing if it helps him keep torching defenses.
The Giants return to your national television set with a Monday Night Football clash against the equally disappointing Minnesota Vikings on the 21st. Chicago continues its trek against the NFC East, when the team travels to the nation's capital for a Sunday afternoon clash with the Washington Redskins in Week 7.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: