By Ernie Palladino
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One after the other in rapid succession, the Giants had chance after chance to score the one lousy touchdown that would beat the 49ers Sunday.
Instead, they sit Monday with a 3-7 record, their season rapidly slipping away under the weight of five interceptions, a fourth-and-inches failure and an inability to take advantage of a surprise onside kick in the third quarter.
This was not a function of simple bad luck on a day the defense played well enough to limit Colin Kaepernick's offense to one touchdown and three field goals. The 16-10 loss, the fifth time this season the Giants failed to score as many as 20 points, happened because they are simply not good enough to finish off a winning team.
It makes one wonder just how low Tom Coughlin's team will sink before all this is over. As hopeful as he sounded when looking ahead to next Sunday night's home game with the Cowboys, it was easy to figure that things can always get worse.
"Now we've had a defensive fiasco, an offensive fiasco and now perhaps we'll be able to put something together," Coughlin said after watching Eli Manning's once-respectable interception number nearly double in a single afternoon.
Yep. Bad defense against Seattle. Turnover-plagued offense against San Francisco. The next logical disaster would be Dallas returning three kickoffs for touchdowns next week, just so special teams will have something to work on heading into what no longer looks like a cinch against Jacksonville.
On this day though, the Giants' offense let them down. Despite the defense keeping the Niners out of the end zone save for Michael Crabtree's crossing pattern that turned into a 48-yard touchdown catch, Manning was unable to follow up on his first-possession touchdown throw to tight end Larry Donnell.
Despite offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's wise decision to return Donnell to the passing game after using him primarily as a blocker, it would be Manning's third-and-goal fade from the 4 to the tight end that would deprive them of the winning points.
Manning took the blame for not getting it out far enough for Donnell to secure it in a vertical position. Instead, he reached and came down on his shoulder, losing control of the ball. The next play wound up being tipped, landing in the hands of linebacker Chris Borland at the 2 for Manning's fifth interception.
These are things that happen to teams that just aren't good enough. Wide receivers like Rueben Randle run lazy or incorrect routes and help create two interceptions that negate seven-catch, 112-yard career days. Kid pass-catchers like Odell Beckham make a twisting, reaching grab that fall an inch short of a first down, or latch onto fantastic deep balls that position their team for easy scores, only to be undone by a failed fourth-down run or three failed end zone throws and a volleyed pick.
A quarterback is besieged because Charles Brown can't handle the job at right tackle for an injured Justin Pugh and the pressure comes in and renders Manning vulnerable.
The day's tally was disheartening. Five interceptions, four that wound up at the Niners' 15, 25, 20, and 2. It means the Giants were good enough to move the ball, but not good enough to finish.
Manning took full responsibility for the turnovers because, well, that's what he does.
"I've got to do better," he said. "I've got to be better at protecting the ball, making better decisions and throwing the ball more accurately."
He is classy.
He will never lay the mistakes at anyone else's doorstep. But the unit spread around plenty of mistakes.
At 3-7, it will take a total collapse by seven teams ahead of them to even think about a wild-card spot. That's not going to happen, not even if the Giants find some miraculous run to 9-7.
Their season effectively ended Sunday in a rain of turnovers. Now, it's just a matter of what the final record will look like.
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