As much as they wanted to avoid it, the New York Giants are starting to look like the team that won the Super Bowl last season.
No, not the one holding the Lombardi Trophy at the end. The one that almost didn't make it to the playoffs at all.
The Giants played their worst all-around game on Sunday, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals 31-13. Andy Dalton threw a career-high four touchdown passes — each to a different receiver — and the Cincinnati Bengals ended their four-game losing streak with a lopsided win.
"I just told the team that we certainly got into this mess together, and we've got to find a way to get out of it together," coach Tom Coughlin said. "I don't have anything I can really say I was pleased with."
The Giants are starting to feel a little familiar pressure.
Last year, they opened the season 6-2, lost four in a row and made the playoffs by winning three of their last four, a strong closing push that made the difference. They opened 6-2 again this season, but head into their bye week with back-to-back losses and a lot of issues, especially on offense.
Eli Manning had another subpar game, failing to live up his family legacy of beating the Bengals. Older brother Peyton improved to 8-0 against Cincinnati on the same field a week earlier, leading Denver to a 31-23 win.
This one was surprisingly lopsided as the Giants hurt themselves with bad passes, broken coverages, a dropped touchdown pass and penalties in front of a less-than-capacity crowd of 56,614. Manning threw a pair of interceptions in the third quarter that led to touchdowns.
"No, I'm not worried," Manning said. "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, and that's what's going on right now."
Manning was sacked a season-high four times by a defense that hardly touched his brother. He also threw two interceptions under pressure that led to Bengals TDs and a 31-6 lead in the third quarter. Manning finished 29 of 46 for 215 yards, falling to 1-2 career against Cincinnati.
"I still believe Eli will bounce back and will play the way that he has played, at a championship level," Coughlin said. "I certainly don't quite understand where we are and why."
Manning threw for only 125 yards, his fewest in four years, during a sloppy 24-20 loss to the Steelers last Sunday that finished a week of turmoil from Superstorm Sandy. The Giants badly wanted to get back in form before their bye week.
Instead, they were worse.
The Giants gave up a 68-yard punt return, Victor Cruz dropped a pass at the goal line, and New York's four turnovers in a horrific second half helped the Bengals pull away.
"Just a little subpar from what we're used to," said Cruz, who had three catches for only 26 yards. "I don't know how to explain it. I don't know what's going on. I don't know what's wrong."
The Bengals (4-5) sustained their season by taking advantage of New York's four turnovers.
"That's what won the game for us, getting the ball with great field position and scoring when we got down there," said Dalton, who was 21 of 30 for 199 yards without a sack or interception.
The talk heading into the game was generated by Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who suggested to a New York radio station that the Giants "have a lot of holes" on their defense. He got Cincinnati going on the fifth play of the game.
Cornerback Corey Webster let him go down the sideline, expecting help in coverage that never came. Green was wide open for a 56-yard touchdown catch.
"It's tough, painful and an embarrassment," Webster said. "You can't have miscommunication. They are already a good team. We don't need to give them a 50-yarder to start. You can't have that."
The Giants have given up 39 passes of 20 yards or more, 10 for touchdowns.
There were openings for all of Dalton's receivers. Andrew Hawkins made a one-handed catch for an 11-yard touchdown that came off another Giants mistake. Steve Weatherford's punt went out of bounds at the Cincinnati 14-yard line, but a penalty forced a rekick. Adam "Pacman" Jones slipped through two defenders for a 68-yard return that set up the score.
Jones started Cincinnati's big third quarter by stripping Ahmad Bradshaw of the ball at the Cincinnati 14-yard line, preventing New York from getting back into the game.
Manning then helped Cincinnati pull away with his interceptions on back-to-back possessions deep in New York territory.
Notes: The home team has won every game in the series, which the Bengals lead 6-3. ... WR Domenik Hixon left in the first quarter with an ankle injury and didn't return. ... The Giants have forced turnovers in 39 of their last 42 games. They have 27 takeaways this season. ... It was the first time this season that Dalton didn't throw an interception. ... There were nearly 9,000 unused seats at Paul Brown.
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