Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Players & Grades

After three horrific performances in a row and a collection of mixed results prior to that, it must be publicly wondered whether Eli Manning is really the Giants' quarterback of the future.

He clearly isn't the kind they had in mind for the present.

Manning threw two absolutely devastating interceptions Sunday against Tennessee, each turning into a touchdown and both enabling the Titans to make their most resounding rally since the Music City Miracle. Tennessee overcame a 21-0 deficit in the fourth quarter and came away with a 24-21 victory on a 49-yard field goal by Rob Bironas with six seconds showing on the clock.

"This one will be remembered forever," said a crestfallen Tom Coughlin, the Giants head coach whose security might now be questioned as well. "I'm sick about it. The shock is to the entire organization. No excuses, no sympathy, no nothing."

Manning threw two interceptions, both to cornerback Pacman Jones, and the second one set up the winning field goal.

"I know better than that," he said. "When you can't complete a pass that late in the game, with a tie score, you throw it high and wide and wait to win in the overtime period. I threw it short. (Jones) caught it. It was all my fault."

That seems to be a weekly apology, and that's not acceptable.

Manning completed 18 of 28 passes for 143 yards and the two picks, as well as a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Plaxico Burress, but most of those numbers were in the first half (where at one point he hit eight of 10 attempts). His QB rating of 59.1 was the sixth consecutive sub-par number, which includes a low of 28.7.

There were also ill-advised penalties, such as a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call against cornerback Frank Walker (playing only because of two injuries to other corners), who took a forearm to quarterback Vince Young's head on a fourth-down run that had already failed.

"That was stupid, it was a bad call," said Coughlin, and it might not be a reach to assume that Walker, who has a history of committing irresponsible, out-of-control penalties when he does get a chance to play, will not last the season, his fourth with the Giants.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Eli Manning, in the fateful fourth quarter, completed just two of seven passes for 11 yards and two interceptions. "I made mistakes," he said, which seems to be the mantra he repeats every week. The Giants, at one point 1-2, won five in a row. But at 6-5 they have now lost three in a row and stand a game behind Dallas in the NFC East. The teams meet Sunday at Giants Stadium.

--MLB Antonio Pierce refused to believe the Titans would be able to get all the way back from their 21-0 deficit. "I never thought that field goal was going to be good," he said of the 49-yard Rob Bironas kick that ended the game. "I was getting ready for the overtime."

--C Shaun O'Hara, asked if he had ever been in a game like that, shrugged: "Only in a nightmare, maybe."

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Jeremy Shockey suffered a dislocated ring finger during warm-ups, the result of a pass from QB Eli Manning, but played the full game and came away with five receptions. None came in the fourth quarter, however.

--RB Tiki Barber, after criticizing the offense and coach Tom Coughlin during the week, claiming the running game had been abandoned against Jacksonville, got 25 carries and gained 82 yards, pushing him over the 1,000-yard barrier (1,080). He also caught five passes for 30 yards, giving him a total of 1,411 yards from scrimmage.

--RB Brandon Jacobs, the heir apparent next year when RB Tiki Barber makes good on his earlier retirement announcement, carried nine times for 54 yards and scored two TDs. The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder is getting more and more involved in the offense, despite having only five carries the previous two weeks.

--OLT Bob Whitfield, the 15-year veteran filling in for starter Luke Petitgout (broken leg) had his first quality start in the last four games and was totally in control. Of course, Tennessee doesn't have a defensive end like Mario Williams or Alex Brown. -- LG David Diehl, who is as furious at the incredible loss as any of the players, tried to sound the alarm. "Now is when we all have to get together and play together and stop this nonsense," he said. "We're a team. Let's act line one."

-- It is said that veteran DE Michael Strahan had a great deal to say when the Giants called a players-only "team meeting" on Monday, but as with all such private meetings, no one outside the roster was in attendance and nobody is saying anything.

-- MLB Antonio Pierce was still in denial. "I can't believe we lost that game," he said. "I never saw it coming, and when they (the Titans) started to get close, I was sure we'd stop them. It was horrible."

-- WR Plaxico Burress, who has been accused of nonchalance, had nothing to say regarding that subject, but he did have a brief conversation with coach Tom Coughlin on the sideline Sunday and didn't seem too pleased.

-- DE Mathias Kiwanuka, the first-round draft pick who allowed QB Vince Young to escape on a fourth-and-10 play and run 19 yards for the first down that kept alive a Titan scoring drive, exercised "proper judgment," according to several of the defensive players, based on the NFL guidelines that protect QBs -- and perhaps over-protect them. He wasn't aware the ball was still in Young's hands; he thought it had been thrown. To drive him into the ground would have produced a 15-yard roughing the quarterback penalty and a first down anyway.

-- DE Osi Umenyiora, one of the bookend Pro Bowl DEs on the team, seems closer to coming back this week than he has been. Sidelined by a strained left hip flexor, Umenyiora has missed the last five games.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. TITANS



PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Eli Manning is in the first extended slump of his short career, and while benching him for a game, or even part of a game, might work, the team isn't going to do that. "Like all players in slumps, the best thing is to let him play his way out of it," coach Tom Coughlin said. The problem is that there are only 16 games in an NFL season and the Giants have only five remaining to right this seriously sinking ship. Manning is throwing high, low, wide and foolishly. He is making bad decisions, and he admits that. But knowing it and stopping it, apparently, are much different. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 143 yards and one TD but was picked off twice -- and each led to a Titans score. WR Plaxico Burress is still just going through the motions when the ball isn't precisely thrown to him and had a lazy reaction to the first pick by CB Pacman Jones. The offensive line's blocking was more than acceptable; Manning wasn't sacked and the Titans defense recorded only one QB hit.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Acceptable numbers but no real substance here. RB Tiki Barber had 25 carries for 82 yards, and in the swirling disaster of the Giants' near-impossible collapse, the fact that he cracked the 1,000-yard barrier again was almost lost. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Brandon Jacobs carried nine times for 54 yards and scored twice, giving him a team-leading eight TDs in just 72 carries (along with 340 yards). RG Chris Snee continues as the best of the offensive linemen and should make it to the Pro Bowl this year. The running game, as directed by offensive coordinator John Hufnagel, is too predictable, and defenses apparently are guessing with him in order to shut down much of Barber's effectiveness. The Giants averaged 4.0 per rush for 36 carries and gained 144 yards on the ground.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- When it counted, the pass defense collapsed. Too many completions in the fourth quarter led to seven first downs, and the decision by rookie DE Mathias Kiwanuka to release QB Vince Young after wrapping him up for an apparent sack led to a 19-yard run on fourth-and-10 that kept the game-tying drive alive. Young was sacked twice. The coverage was close to embarrassing at times, especially by reserve CB Frank Walker, pressed into service as a starter because of injuries to Sam Madison and Corey Webster. Young gained 129 yards passing in the 24-point fourth quarter (and 120 over the first three quarters). Overall, the fourth-quarter defense would earn a grade of "F" if scored individually.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Titans don't run the ball well unless Young is doing the running. He gained 69 yards on 10 carries while the rest of the team had 39 yards, including starting RB Travis Henry. So the Giants' defense against the rush wasn't bad; Young scrambles once coverage has broken down, which is not a total negative for the defense to absorb. All but one of Tennessee's seven rushing first downs were attributed to Young. FS Will Demps and SS Gibril Wilson, used more as run defenders because of Young's scrambling abilities, were the leading tacklers, with 10 and nine respectively.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Not much contribution from special teams. K Jay Feely did not attempt a field goal. Jeff Feagles was acceptable with five punts for a 42.6-yard average (37.6 net). PR Chad Morton continues to be ineffective, while KR Derrick Ward is only slightly better than that. The coverage units allowed Titans KR Bobby Wade to take three kickoffs back for 78 yards. Overall, a blah game for special teams, perhaps the least hurtful unit of the day for the Giants.

COACHING: F -- There is no way to excuse the collapse, and much of it must fall on the coaching staff, from head coach Tom Coughlin on down. The lack of discipline and awareness is a direct coaching flaw, and the methodology in playing the fourth quarter with all its ineffectiveness should again be traced back to the head man. Injuries have decimated the team, true, but strategy and alignment are still suspect. Only two other teams in NFL history have lost a game after leading by 21 points or more in the final 10 minutes of a game.