On paper, the New York Giants came closer to victory Thursday night than they have in over a month. And when you consider that they benefited from a garbage-time touchdown against Dallas in their only other one-score loss this season, Thursday night's 27-21 loss to the Chicago Bears was probably their narrowest miss of the 2013 season.
You'd think that a half-decent-looking final box score in a road game against a winning opponent would help us gain some clarity regarding the direction of the franchise and some of its key components.
And yet I walked away from this performance with more questions than I had before.
We've established time and again that outside of two fantastic but isolated hot streaks, quarterback Eli Manning's career has been ho-hum. Good quarterbacks are hard to find, though, and you don't give up on a two-time Super Bowl MVP based on a bad 22-game stretch, even if that stretch comes smack-dab in the middle of what was supposed to be said quarterback's prime.
But with the Giants season on the line Thursday night, he threw three more interceptions to push his embarrassing 2013 tally to 15.
No other quarterback in the NFL has more than nine.
Manning has now been the league's interception king for longer than a calendar year. At some point, you have to consider potential long-term replacements.
At some point, you have to at least wonder if this is more than a slump.
It's a business, and you can't afford to be nostalgic in these situations.
I'm not saying that if I were Giants general manager Jerry Reese I'd be ready to move on at the quarterback position, but this team is now in such a hole that a top-10 draft pick almost certainly looms. When you rarely pick that early and it's a draft flush with potential franchise quarterbacks, then sometimes you have to take drastic measures.
Now, what if the Giants are in a position to draft a kid like Teddy Bridgewater next May? Eli's health might not be a concern, but his age will begin to factor in (33 in January), and his lack of consistency and production could be the trump card.
Of course, interceptions are almost never fully on the quarterback.
There was no excuse for Manning's horrendous first-series pick, and he definitely overthrew Brandon Myers on that fourth-quarter interception, but that was still a catchable pass. And it looked like Rueben Randle screwed up his route on the pick-six to Tim Jennings.
The point is that even if Manning isn't the primary problem, it's not a good sign that the core that surrounds him continues to struggle.
Victor Cruz has been lighting it up, sure, but I expected more this year from Randle and Myers. All three of Manning's picks were thrown in their direction. Randle has butchered more than a few routes and has already dropped four passes. Myers is—and I'm really not trying to be hyperbolic here—one of the worst blockers I've ever seen play the tight end position in the NFL.
And then there's Hakeem Nicks. He has at least been healthy this season, but he hasn't done enough to earn that fat long-term contract he desires.
Thursday against the Bears, who didn't have top corner Charles Tillman, Nicks had just four grabs on eight targets. Again, part of this could be on Manning, but it also just doesn't feel as though the 25-year-old is getting open as much as he used to.
All offseason, they worried about the linebacking corps. They worried about support for Jason Pierre-Paul and Pierre-Paul's back problems. They worried about the running game and the aging interior offensive line. They worried about Justin Pugh starting from the get-go, the loss of Kenny Phillips, Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Canty, Michael Boley, Martellus Bennett, and Corey Webster's ability (or lack thereof) to bounce back from an abysmal season.
The only thing Giants fans didn't worry about was the offensive core. Manning, Nicks, Cruz, Randle and maybe even Myers, Will Beatty and Chris Snee.
Those guys were supposed to come together to save the day, but all of them except Cruz have been disappointments. Beatty and Myers can't block, an especially big problem for Beatty as a highly paid left tackle. Randle can't take the next step. Nicks can't regain his superstar form.
And Manning, well...you know all about Manning.
With all of that in mind, it's possible the Giants won't be able to rebuild this offseason merely by keeping the foundation in place and replacing some of the appliances, maybe renovating some rooms. They might need to tear this thing down and start from scratch, in which case even members of that highly popular offensive core should be up for review.