The New York Giants were supposed to be a championship-contending team in 2017. Or at worst, a playoff-contending one after winning 11 games during their first season under head coach Ben McAdoo.
They were supposed to have an offense that could mask the deficiencies of Eli Manning, their 36-year-old quarterback who looks about a year older every week. The offseason additions of wide receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram would, in theory, compensate for any fading arm strength.
They were supposed to be an NFC East powerhouse again, and not an unwatchable embarrassment. But that's where they've sunk to now, with a 24-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Monday night the latest blow.
Now with every passing week, offense just isn't a thing for the Giants and it's becoming harder to imagine a future when their contending status returns. Instead, a much different and darker end to 2017 is forming.
The one where they descend to become one of the NFL's worst teams, and the Manning era starts careening toward a rocky conclusion.
Manning will shoulder the blame for some of the spiral. That happens to any quarterback, and especially one who throws an interception on a poorly placed ball one play after his defense created a fumble and took potential points off the board. Manning did that in the second quarter Monday, and the quality field position he gifted the Lions led to a touchdown.
But really, there's only so much Manning can do when checkdowns and screens are his only options, and taking more than about two seconds to look downfield is hazardous to his health. Trying that usually resulted in an unfriendly greeting from Detroit Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, as Pro Football Focus noted:
Pro Football Focus @PFF
Ziggy Ansah was on 🔥 https://t.co/x3bsfVBTiw2017-9-19 03:43:56
Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers was merely a minor nuisance for Ansah, who finished with three sacks. Flowers stumbled and staggered around all evening while Manning's pocket collapsed.
Flowers was there only as a large body to be pushed aside or simply run over. He did his part to contribute to the five sacks Manning took and the constant state of panic the Giants passing offense is suffering.
Manning has now been sacked eight times over two games, which has led to gutter-level production in every sense for a Giants offense that's scored one touchdown and 13 points. Manning has averaged only 6.6 yards per attempt, and with pressure consistently getting home, defenses have been able to focus on stopping an already mediocre rushing offense. Consequently, the Giants have logged only 90 rushing yards in two weeks.
What does all that look like on the scoreboard? Mostly, the worst kind of history. Go ahead and bring the pain, ESPN Stats & Information:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Giants: 1st time in franchise history starting 0-2 with both losses by 14+ points2017-9-19 03:58:52
Often, the true measure of a team in decline is when an already existing source of awfulness is made worse by easily avoidable mistakes. And the Giants had plenty of those in their loss to the Lions.
The most maddening was a sequence that sucked the oxygen away right when the Giants offense had finally started to stretch its arms and wake from a slumber.
Mercifully, that happened early in the third quarter, and the Giants had advanced all the way to Detroit's 1-yard line after a 17-yard pass to Marshall.
Suddenly, they had three tries to get one measly yard and to cut the Lions' lead to three points. Then just as suddenly, that opportunity vanished due to self-inflicted wounds.
First, guard Brett Jones moved his offense back 10 yards with a holding penalty. That killed momentum, but the touchdown was still easily within reach. The Giants clawed back to the 2-yard line on fourth down, which is when McAdoo looked at his offense, or the complete lack of it, and decided to keep pushing.
Then the play clock ticked and kept ticking. In an astounding lack of awareness, it was allowed to reach double zeros, and the Giants were moved back five yards by a delay-of-game penalty at a crucial, game-defining moment.
They settled for the field goal, which would be the last points New York scored. After the game, McAdoo pushed his quarterback underneath a large yellow vehicle:
Paul Schwartz @NYPost_Schwartz
McAdoo on delay of game penalty: "Sloppy quarterback play."2017-9-19 03:40:58
The mistakes didn't end there. The next crippling miscue came from a receiver who's supposed to be a source of comfort for Manning.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Giants were trailing by a touchdown and still had a chance for an ugly win. Manning laser-beamed a perfect pass to Marshall deep down the right sideline.
It struck him directly in the mitts, and the rest should have been routine for a receiver who has recorded six seasons with 100-plus receptions in his career. Marshall needed to see the ball into his grasp and complete a catch any NFL-caliber receiver makes while sleepwalking.
Instead, the ball bounced off his hands, and the Giants were forced to punt two plays later. That's when rookie Lions cornerback and punt returner Jamal Agnew spun, broke a tackle and strutted his way to an 88-yard touchdown.
HE. COULD. GO. ALL. THE. WAY. Rookie @jamalagnew goes 88 yards on the punt return TD! #OnePride #DETvsNYG https://t.co/Qj9waGRlBD2017-9-19 02:45:47
Marshall was signed to be the ideal complement as a quality possession receiver across from Odell Beckham Jr. Now his name and face belong on a milk carton after only two receptions for 27 yards over two games.
Beckham returned from his injury Monday, though he played in a limited capacity and was on a restricted snap count. Having him fully healthy will help, but this Giants offense may already be lost beyond even his heroics.
Beckham will be wasted if Manning doesn't have time to even glance downfield. And without a better option on the roster to replace Flowers, it's doubtful those precious seconds are coming anytime soon.
The challenge of keeping Manning upright isn't about to get any easier, either. The next two teams up for the Giants—the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers—have already combined for nine sacks.
The hits will likely keep coming, both on the field and in the standings.