- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn't say here we go again, but he didn't have to. The Giants know the gauntlet of quarterbacks they're facing just ahead. They know their own recent history of late-season flops and death spirals. And yet Sunday night, playing in a national TV showcase game, they came up with this?
The Giants lost to a 3-6 Philadelphia Eagles team that was starting backup quarterback Vince Young instead of Michael Vick. They had a chance to put a sleeper hold on the Eagles and stay in first place in the NFC East. And yet even the effort the Giants threw into this game was admittedly inexcusable, not just the execution. The Giants couldn't run the ball, they couldn't protect Eli Manning, and they couldn't stop the Eagles' offense from ramming the ball down their throats on an 18-play fourth-quarter drive to win the game.
But if the Giants' can't beat Young -- a Tennessee Titans castoff whose solitary pass this season before Sunday's game was an interception -- then how do they plan on winning against the three hottest quarterbacks in the league? In the next three weeks they face New Orleans' Drew Brees, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Dallas' revitalized Tony Romo.
"Everyone's disgusted," said Giants right tackle Kareem McKenzie, who saw Eagles defensive end Jason Babin beat him with a spin move, and then strip Manning of the ball to seal the Eagles' 17-10 upset win after the Giants marched to the Eagles' 21-yard line with 1:25 to play.
The season gets only harder for this maddening Giants team.
Two weeks ago, the Giants were up two games in the NFC East race and lifting Coughlin in the air in their overjoyed locker room after that Patriots' win. But Sunday night, the room cleared out as if someone had just pulled a fire alarm. Everyone wanted to get as far away from this disgrace as possible. Two weeks from now, the Giants know, they could be two games out of the division lead with a 6-6 record, and in danger of falling out of the playoff race completely with two matchups against streaking Dallas still staring them in the face.
And this doesn't bode well for the Giants when they look ahead: Though the Eagles' Young threw three more interceptions Sunday night, the Giants offense was playing so badly it didn't matter.
If you want to know where this loss was really decided -- and where future Giants' games may be, too -- go no further than that.
As poorly as the Giants played the Eagles' marathon fourth-quarter drive that won the game, this loss still gets pinned squarely on the Giants' offense, and more specifically, the Giants' offensive line, which was physically manhandled all night.
The Giants aren't going to win any of their next three games if they can't run the ball well enough to keep Brees and Rodgers and Romo off the field, and if they can't protect Manning from getting hammered as often as he didn't Sunday night. The Eagles sacked Manning three times, hit him another 10 times while he was throwing, and drilled him a 14th time on a hit that drew a flag after he'd thrown an interception. The Giants began Sunday night 29th in the 32-team NFL in rushing, and they thudded down two notches to next-to-last after managing just 29 yards on 11 carries.
"Pathetic," Coughlin fumed.
Yet there was Giants' running back Brandon Jacobs standing at his locker after the game and taking a shot at Giants fans who booed him much of the night, saying, "That's the best thing they do here is boo ... I've been hearing that for seven years."
When the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs starts getting more than two-yard gains on those between-the-tackles plays that he tap dances into, and quits failing again on a third-and-one as he did Sunday night, maybe the jeers will stop.
The Giants offensive line didn't help him much, it's true. And Coughlin vowed to "take a look at that" this week. Lineup changes could be coming. Still, the Giants can't get starting Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw back fast enough from his two-game absence with a broken foot. No one questions his toughness, and the Giants' offense can badly use the energy he brings.
Because here's what the Giants are staring at next: New Orleans' Brees is 10 games away from breaking Johnny Unitas' NFL record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass and the Saints offense is ranked No. 1 in the league. Rodgers is completing 72.8 percent of his passes this season, and looks like the league's runaway MVP. Romo is suddenly as hot as anyone in the league.
And the Giants are not.
If they can't win an ugly game like this, how are they going to survive a few shootouts? How are they going to keep a grip on a playoff spot?
"We can't keep waiting until the fourth quarter to start playing," said Manning.
"We came out flat again," Giants receiver Victor Cruz admitted.
If they do the same against Brees, Rodgers and Romo, they'll get flattened -- again and again and again.
How are reeling Giants going to handle NFC's hottest QBs, starting with Brees?