Erratic Eli putting on a tired show

CINCINNATI -- Eli Manning tried to dismiss the first theory offered for the New York Giants' power outage.

"No, I don't think so," the quarterback said when asked about a ProFootballTalk.com report that a tired right arm has led to his recent struggles. "I feel like I'm making the throws, and I don't feel like it's tired.

"If my arm were tired, I would tell the coaches, and we would shut down some throws or throw a little bit less," he later added. "I don't feel like we're overthrowing. I feel like when I'm making throws, the ball is coming out well."

Whatever it might be, something is definitely wrong with Manning and the Giants' offense. On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Giants went into bye mode one week too early as they were embarrassed 31-13 by the Bengals.

Manning cracked 200 yards for the first time in three games with 215 yards, but he threw two crushing third-quarter interceptions deep in his own territory.

For the third straight game, Manning failed to throw for a touchdown. The last time that happened was during the second, third and fourth starts of his career back in 2004.

We've seen the two-time Super Bowl MVP throw bad interceptions in the past but not as Elite Eli.

"I still believe that Eli will bounce back and will play the way that he has played at a championship level," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Manning, who has just one touchdown in his past 18 quarters. "I certainly don't quite understand where we are and why."

When asked if there is anything physically wrong with Manning, Coughlin said "no."

"I've asked him how he feels," Coughlin said. "And he responds he feels good."

While much of the Giants' success rides on Manning's shoulders, the quarterback wasn't alone in contributing to the mess in Cincinnati. The defense opened the debacle by allowing A.J. Green to waltz into the end zone alone on a 56-yard bomb.

After a quick three-and-out on offense -- something that is becoming an all-too-familiar trend -- the special teams allowed Pacman Jones to return a punt 68 yards to the Giants' 11. Three plays later, Andy Dalton, on his way to a career day, hit Andrew Hawkins for an 11-yard touchdown to push the Bengals up 14-0 just four minutes into the game.

"I'm pretty shocked right now," defensive end Justin Tuck said after the game.

The Giants (6-4) wasted a terrific opportunity to go into the bye week with seven wins, something that would have given them a little more margin for error with six games remaining against difficult opponents like the Packers, Redskins, Saints, Falcons, Ravens and Eagles.

They blew a chance to keep a nice cushion in the NFC East, leaving the door open for Dallas. And they'll need all the cushion they can get, not only because of their remaining opponents but also because of the other opponent they seem to battle annually –- their penchant for midseason slumps.

"It's kinda a familiar movie, huh?" Tuck asked with a frustrated sigh.

But the most disturbing thing about all of this is just how bad the Giants looked against a Bengals team that had lost four straight.

Cincinnati looked like it could get a first down through the air whenever it needed one against a team that once dominated Carolina and San Francisco on the road. The Giants' defense could barely breathe on Dalton, let alone sack him.

Green and his supporting cast of receivers poked Swiss cheese-style holes in Perry Fewell's secondary.

As it turned out, the person who needed to duck in this game was not Green -- as Antrel Rolle had warned last week -- but rather Manning.

The offensive line, which had played so well for weeks, surrendered four sacks and eight quarterback hits.

Twice, Manning had defensive tackle Geno Atkins clinging to him, and both times Manning tried to get rid of the ball. Both resulted in third-quarter interceptions that gave the Bengals the ball at the Giants' 12- and 16-yard lines, respectively. And both turnovers led to Dalton touchdown passes.

"I was trying to throw the ball away," Manning explained of his first interception, which was tipped to Pat Sims. "A mistake on my part. I know better than to do that, but sometimes you get in the moment and make a bad decision, so I've got to make sure I'm not doing that and putting our team in a bad situation."

The Giants turned the ball over three times (Ahmad Bradshaw lost a fumble) on three consecutive possessions to hand the Bengals a 31-6 cushion and the game.

And when Manning was able to get passes off, he only seemed to have success throwing short-to-intermediate passes to Hakeem Nicks (nine catches for 75 yards).

Manning's longest pass of the day was for 16 yards, although he had a 38-yard touchdown pass dropped by Victor Cruz at the start of the fourth quarter.

In the past three games, the Manning-to-Cruz connection has struggled on anything 10 yards or longer. In that span, Manning is 2-for-11 targeting Cruz on 10-yard-plus passes for 44 yards and no touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Conversely, in the first seven games, Cruz caught 13 of the 22 throws on which he was targeted for 335 yards and three touchdowns.

Coughlin's team simply will not survive with Manning putting up the type of numbers we haven't seen since early in his rookie season. Certainly not with an inconsistent defense and a running game that needs more punch.

Perhaps the one positive to come out of this disaster is that the Giants now head into their bye week. It's a good bet Manning will be trying to figure out how to snap out of his funk.

"I'm not worried," Manning said of the Giants' fixing their issues. "Over the years, we've gone through stretches where we haven't played our best football, and we've been able to bounce out of that."

"We can fix it."