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Still-developing Giants have no choice but to learn from ugly loss

10/13/2014

PHILADELPHIA -- The New York Giants lost more than a game here Sunday night. They lost wide receiver Victor Cruz for the season to a knee injury -- a loss that hit them on a deeper emotional level than did the 27-0 loss on the scoreboard. They also lost ground in the NFC East. Rather than playing for first place next week in Dallas, they sit at 3-3, a full two games behind the two teams tied for first place in their division.

It was a terrible night on every conceivable level for the Giants -- a rude splash of cold water in the face of a team that was beginning to feel as though it had things figured out.

"I think it's a good reminder that you can't just show up on the field and have things go well for you automatically," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "You've got to earn it."

The Giants aren't as bad as they looked Sunday night. Nor are they as good as they looked during the three-game winning streak they carried here with them on a wave of bizarre midweek trash talk. They are what we thought they were all along -- a rebuilding team that's going to show progress in spurts but isn't likely to sustain excellence anytime soon. They're a team unlikely to be able to survive injuries to players as important to them as Cruz and injured running back Rashad Jennings, who missed this game with a knee injury of his own. They're good enough and well-coached enough that it's not going to shock you to see them win any given game, yet they're unfinished enough that they can still get their helmets handed to them by a 2013 playoff team that has as many good players as the Eagles do.

"Definitely, the first couple of series, we got punched in the mouth," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "We started bleeding, and we couldn't put a Band-Aid on it."

The Eagles dominated the Giants on both lines. They sacked Manning six times and backup Ryan Nassib twice in what Giants right tackle Justin Pugh called "probably the worst game I've ever played, hands down, not even close." The Eagles' offensive line kept the Giants' pass-rushers away from quarterback Nick Foles and opened enough holes to break star running back LeSean McCoy out of his early-season funk. The Eagles were, by the Giants' own admission, the more physical team and the team that wanted the game more.

"We took the night off," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. "No rhyme or reason for it."

That's going to be the frustrating thing about this Giants season. You're not likely to know when the good game is coming or when the stinker is just around the corner. They will be inconsistent and maddening, because that is the type of team they are. They are still putting a lot of new pieces together, still trying to make progress in the new offense. If you believed that progress would continue without any setbacks, you now know how wrong you were.

The injury to Cruz only adds to the challenge. Jennings was clearly missed, as the Giants don't trust rookie Andre Williams in passing situations yet and the Eagles played defense as though they knew it. And starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who missed the second half with back spasms, is starting to become a regular injury question mark.

A team in the Giants' position -- one that's still trying to find itself -- is going to feel those injuries keenly. Cruz, Jennings and Rodgers-Cromartie are vital pieces not easily replaced. And even if the Giants get tough relief efforts from guys such as Odell Beckham Jr., Williams and Zack Bowman, there are enough cracks elsewhere on the roster that the hiccups are likely to continue.

There's nothing wrong with being a team like that as long as you're making progress. And Sunday night notwithstanding, the Giants have shown progress over the season's first six weeks. If you can contend while you're rebuilding, it's a bonus. And while these Giants may yet be able to pull that off, their main goals this year should be to show progress and figure out which holes remain for them to plug next offseason. Nothing about the first six weeks of the season has really changed that. Sunday night, in the end, was only a reminder that this is a team that still has a long way to go.