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Eli's prime time goes down the drain

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Andrew Luck, otherworldly talent, killed off a New York season about as decisively as Michael Jordan used to do the same, and the only consolation on the losing side came in the acknowledgment of the obvious.

Luck showed up Monday night so ridiculously good at such a ridiculously young age, even the '85 Bears would have had trouble putting him on his rear. His Colts had put up 40 points to the Giants' 10 before garbage time made the final scoreboard a liar, and for the home team it was game, set, light a match to all realistic scenarios of making the playoffs.

"We're 3-5," said Antrel Rolle. "There's a lot to be worried about."

Like the funeral arrangements, for one.

Luck scorched the Giants for 354 passing yards and four touchdowns on 46 attempts, advancing the notion that he might someday climb over Colts legends Johnny U and Peyton M on the ladder of historical greats. But as much as this game became a showcase for a dominant athlete, it also became a study in why the Giants will end up in the same holiday-time bin of misfit toys with the 1-8 Jets.

Tom Coughlin had implored his team to "play above the X's and O's," and yet when there were plays to be made on 50-50 balls, the Giants made almost none of them. The most conspicuous non-play came early in the third quarter, when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie rose high in the end zone to intercept Luck's 31-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton, only to have Hilton rip the ball out of his arms.

"We knew full well the explosiveness of this team," Coughlin said of Indy's top-ranked offense.

It's one thing to know it and quite another to live it. The losing coach was late in challenging the play preceding the Colts' first touchdown (Coughlin would've lost the challenge anyway), and stood there helplessly as Luck hit Coby Fleener for 32 yards. His explanation captured the essence of the Giants' lost cause.

"I was trying anything I could to slow the thing down," Coughlin said.

On one Giants drive in the third, a fan could be heard screaming, "Do something Eli." Manning responded on the next play with a 24-yard pass to Andre Williams to the Indy 1-yard line, setting up a Williams score.

Only Luck answered immediately with a 40-yard touchdown strike to Reggie Wayne on third down, the kind of throw under pressure only a handful of quarterbacks dead or alive could've delivered.

In the end, if there was no shame in losing to Luck, there will be some shame in missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, assuming the Giants don't survive the forbidding gauntlet of Seahawks, 49ers and Cowboys they're about to run.

There will also be shame in wasting another year of Manning's prime, no small thing given the Giants' investment in a new offensive coordinator and Eli-friendly system designed to reduce his interceptions and keep him upright.

It was working, too. After throwing 27 picks last year, Manning entered this game with five interceptions against 14 touchdowns and a career-best completion percentage (64.9) and quarterback rating (96.8). His father Archie had predicted that offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's keep-it-short-and-quick approach would suit his 33-year-old son well, and for the most part it appeared ol' Archie was right.

So this night started with promise, even with the Giants packing a sub-.500 record. Manning made his 170th consecutive start, postseason included, and his 159th regular-season start tied Phil Simms' number with the Giants (Simms' total wasn't consecutive) and made Manning and Coughlin the third-most prolific quarterback/coach tandem the league has known.

Nothing is more important in the NFL than the durability of a first-string quarterback, and recent developments in other pockets of the NFC East threw klieg lights on that truth.

In Philly, Nick Foles could be done for the regular season, leaving the Eagles in the less reliable hands of Mark Sanchez. In Dallas, Tony Romo is out with yet another back injury. In Washington, Robert Griffin III has already proved fragile enough to inspire sobering questions about his credibility as a franchise quarterback.

Griffin has already missed 10 starts to injury in three seasons, or 10 more than Manning has missed since Coughlin handed him the ball with seven games left in his rookie season, 2004. Foles, also in his third year, is about to miss six to eight starts more than Manning has in 11 years.

Romo? He's among the league's toughest players, a quarterback willing to play through almost anything. But since he took over for Drew Bledsoe in the middle of the 2006 season, Romo has made all 16 possible starts just four times; Manning has gone 16-for-16 nine straight times.

Of even greater consequence, Romo has managed a grand total of one postseason victory to Manning's eight, which include, of course, two Super Bowl-MVP performances at the expense of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

But Manning won't be adding a third ring to his collection this winter, and he won't be capitalizing on the broken-down state of the quarterback position in his own division. The Giants are going to need 10 victories to make the playoffs, meaning they'd have to go 7-1 over the second half of the season.

They're not going 7-1, and a brief review of their first eight games will explain why. The Giants' three victories came against teams (Houston, Washington, Atlanta) with a combined record of 9-17. They've faced five heavyweights and lost to all five.

"We've got to find a way to be better offensively," Manning said after his third straight defeat.

Though he didn't match his older brother's confession after Denver's loss in New England ("I stunk," Peyton said), Eli did criticize himself for missing open receivers early with some high throws.

"I've got to play better," he said.

Chances are, Manning would be playing better with Victor Cruz running patterns and Rashad Jennings running the ball. In an everyone-deals-with-injuries league, so what? Seattle and Green Bay/Detroit will likely grab the NFC's two wild-card spots, and the Giants will likely finish two or three games behind Dallas and Philadelphia in the division.

"We have to fight harder," Rolle said.

Only the story of this 3-5 team isn't about toughness; it's about talent. The Giants don't have enough of it in 2014, and because of that their two-time Super Bowl MVP will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.

No, that isn't a crime. But given the advantages Eli Manning still has over his NFC East peers, it sure is a shame.