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By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Eli Manning doesn't typically fare all that well in November as evidenced by his 13-18 record in the month.
Manning was 1-3 in November last season before a surge in January catapulted the New York Giants to their second Super Bowl title in five years. Manning looks to even his record this month when the Giants invade Paul Brown Stadium Sunday to take on the Cincinnati Bengals.
New York kicked off November with a 24-20 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the Giants' fell apart in the fourth quarter and allowed two touchdowns to blow a 10-point lead. The Steelers grinded out 158 rushing yards against New York's defense, which is 19th against the run (118.0 ypg). Isaac Redman ran for 147 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, while his counterpart, Ahmad Bradshaw, was held to 48 yards on 15 touches.
The Giants struggled to move the football and needed a defensive touchdown to stay in the game. Eli Manning passed for a season-low 125 yards and was intercepted once. He hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in his last two games and hasn't eclipsed the 200-yard passing mark in three of his past four. But Manning is still second in the NFL with 2,426 passing yards this season.
"We haven't been playing our best football offensively the last few weeks. Tonight, it finally caught up with us," Manning said after the Giants had their four-game winning streak cut short.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin reiterated his quarterback's sentiments.
"I just think for some reason, we're not clicking like we were," Coughlin said. "Two weeks ago, we were the number one big-play team in the league. After two weeks of admittedly poor offensive play, we're sitting here with not a lot to show for it. Hopefully, we can get back on the same page and deliver and be able to communicate as we have in the past. Hopefully, it'll be this week."
The Giants had won their last 10 regular-season games when leading at halftime and did not score a second-half touchdown for the second week in a row. They will enter the bye week following Sunday's game in the Queen City.
New York is still comfortably ahead for the NFC East lead, and that's mainly because of Manning even though he hasn't played his best lately. Manning, who has made 128 consecutive starts and will face the 66th different quarterback in his career in Cincinnati, eclipsed the 30,000-passing mark versus Pittsburgh, passing Randall Cunningham (29,979).
Cincinnati is one of eight teams with three or less wins in the AFC, and its chances of making a postseason run are dwindling with each passing week.
The Bengals are just ahead of the last-place Cleveland Browns in the North Division and have lost four in row, including Sunday's 31-23 setback to Peyton Manning and the Denver Nuggets. A pair of Manning touchdown passes in the fourth quarter put the Broncos ahead for good, and Cincinnati failed to apply any pressure up front, finishing with no sacks.
Speaking of sacks, the Bengals allowed five on the afternoon, three of which by Broncos young star Von Miller.
"There's variable things you've got to do in protection," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We chipped some. We've got to do different things with the protection. We did a pretty good job of executing it in the first half, but we've got to keep being consistent with it all throughout. And certainly when the game is on the line, we've got to give the quarterback an opportunity to deliver the ball and have clean pockets."
Lewis was impressed with the run game, as the Bengals registered 91 rushing yards against a tough Denver defense. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 56 yards and a score on 17 carries and faces a tough New York defense that is 19th in the league against the rush. The Giants, though, were gashed by Redman and the Steelers' offensive line.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had a touchdown pass and an interception versus Denver, and has thrown at least one pick in every game. In contrast, Dalton has thrown a TD pass in every game except the season opener. He is on pace to pass Carson Palmer for the most passing yards in a single season in Bengals history. Palmer, who's with Oakland, threw for 4,131 yards in 2007.
Cincinnati has dropped three in a row at home. It is 5-3 all-time against the Giants, but has dropped three of the past four meetings between the teams. New York posted a 26-23 overtime triumph in the last encounter on Sept. 21, 2008.
"They play with a lot of confidence and they expect to win every game and that's something we have to instill in our players; where every game you're expecting to win," Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said of New York. "(The Giants) have already had some great comebacks this year where they're down, down, down and all of a sudden they just win at the end because they know they're going to. They make the big plays when they have to."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Bengals are preparing to face another Manning this week, and the younger sibling could be a tough task to scheme against for how well he's played in the past two seasons. The Bengals are 19th against the pass, allowing 240.4 yards per game, and will have a tough challenge slowing down Giants receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz hasn't scored in the last two games, so he's due to reach the end zone. However, he has just seven catches in that time. Nicks has been nicked up this season and caught one pass for 10 yards versus the Steelers.
Denver had 291 net yards passing against the Bengals, who picked off Peyton Manning twice and batted down seven passes. The biggest problem last week for Cincinnati was the failure to record a sack. Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson lead the Bengals in sacks with seven and six, respectively. Defensive backs Terrance Newman and Chris Crocker both have two INTs this season. Newman, of course, spent several years playing against Manning twice a year as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
"We just have to get better in all facets of the game ... offense, defense and special teams," Newman said. "We're at the halfway point now, and we are a little bit behind, but there are still eight weeks left."
Newman has five career INTs against the Giants.
New York has struggled offensively over the past few weeks, so it's important for Cincinnati to not let the Giants get comfortable early on. Eli Manning needs three TD strikes to pass Phil Simms for the most in team history (199). Manning was sacked twice on Sunday, the first time he was sacked more than once since he was brought down three times on opening night vs. Dallas.
Dalton doesn't want to lose to the Manning brothers in the same season. The key to that will be protection up front. New York arguably has a better front line than Denver and two of the more talented ends in the business. Justin Tuck had two sacks on Ben Roethlisberger, while Jason Pierre-Paul has five in his last four games. JPP owns eight sacks in the past seven against the AFC.
Dalton was asked about Cincinnati's chances of rising above in the face of an uphill battle at 3-5.
"Our next focus is going to be against the Giants for this next week, and we've got to come to play. They're another good team. We've got to come to play," Dalton said. "If we play with the effort we had today with a little more focus and make a couple more plays, we'll put ourselves in position to win. We have to take it one game at a time right now. It's a focus."
The Giants' defense has seen better days. It is 25th in yards allowed (382.3) and 26th in pass defense (264.3). A great matchup this week is Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Giants safety Stevie Brown. Brown leads the league with 168 yards on a team-high five interceptions. The Giants are tied with Chicago with 17 interceptions on the season.
Green has caught a touchdown pass in seven straight games and has a TD reception in each of Cincinnati's four home games. Tight end Jermaine Gresham could pose problems for New York and is coming off a career day in which he racked up 108 receiving yards. It was the most yards by a Bengals tight end since Tony McGee had 109 yards back in 1995.
The loss to the Steelers left a bitter taste on the mouths of the defending champion Giants, and the only way to rid themselves of that sour flavor is playing mistake-free football this week. The offense needs to get back on track, especially Bradshaw, who has been held under 100 yards rushing in each of the previous three weeks. Look for Manning to outduel Dalton and collect at least three touchdown passes to establish a new team record.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 31, Bengals 17
11/08 14:04:23 ET