EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants have gone into survival mode after their worst start since the 1987 strike season.
The Super Bowl champions from two seasons ago are grasping at anything that offers them hope and a way of keeping this frustrating season alive after an 0-4 start.
Coach Tom Coughlin allowed safety and defensive co-captain Antrel Rolle to speak to the team Monday, 24 hours after a 31-7 loss to the Chiefs (4-0) in Kansas City. Rolle told them there is a bond here and he believed good things will happen in this mistake-marred season.
“I just told the guys, we have to believe that we can do it,” Rolle said. “Once you train your mind, and really believe — not just tell yourself you believe, but really actually believe it — that’s when a lot of things will come together. The mind is a powerful thing. It controls everything within your body.”
Coughlin applauded Rolle’s message with the team facing its biggest early challenge in his 10-year tenure.
“He’s not afraid of that circumstance,” Coughlin said. “He’s kind of put his arms around this team and asked the members of this team to accept and understand that as well, and to know that when you take the field as a unit, you really do feel as if you represent one another and have each other’s back. You have to totally believe that you have the ability to succeed.”
Deep belief, however, can’t always overcome bad play and mistakes, and the Giants have had more than share in a winless September.
The numbers are frightening through four games:
—New York has been outscored 146-61, including 69-7 the last two weeks in losses to Carolina and Kansas City.
—Touted as the strength of the Giants, Eli Manning and the offense have been awful from the first play of the season, a screen pass DeMarcus Ware intercepted in Dallas.
—New York is averaging 25:31 in time of possession. The banged-up offensive line has allowed 14 sacks and the running game is averaging 58 yards. Even veteran placekicker Josh Brown missed two field goals (33, 44) in the last two games when things were close.
Making a play on third-down is the exception. The Giants are 11 of 48 on third down, roughly 23 percent.
—Victor Cruz is the only option with 26 catches for 425 yards and four touchdowns.
There hasn’t been much to celebrate. More often, players are walking off the field shaking their heads.
Manning has thrown 10 interceptions and there have been six lost fumbles, which have led to 45 points by the opposition. Coupled with the Giants’ seven takeaways, they are minus-9 in turnover margin.
“I think a win would be big for this locker room and the morale and just get that feeling again,” Manning said. “We work hard. We work hard each week and the reason you work hard is for that feeling after a game when you can celebrate and you can feel good about all the work you put in. And when you don’t have anything to show for it, it gets frustrating.”
The defense has tried to hang in, but eventually gets snowballed. Opponents are averaging 384.3 yards in total offense and converting at 50 percent on third down.
The pass rush, so effective in the championship season, has produced four sacks and little pressure, allowing opposing quarterback to hit 66 percent of their passes.
Even the reliable Steve Weatherford has had a sub-par season punting. Two of his punts down the middle of the field were returned for touchdowns, with Kansas City’s Dexter McCluster’s 89-yard return late in the third quarter breaking the game open.
“The first quarter is behind us right now,” Rolle said. “There is nothing we can do about it. I am actually glad that it is behind us. We played some pretty bad ball out there. We are not making excuses. We understand what we put out on the field. We also understand we need to get better from it and we will get better from it. This is just a new beginning, a 12-game season for us.”
Coughlin sees other things. His message Monday centered on the NFC East. Despite their start, the Giants only trail first-place Dallas by two games with 12 to go.
New York plays Philadelphia (1-3) on Sunday, while Dallas (2-2) hosts Peyton Manning and Denver (4-0). If things go right, New York might be a game out next Monday.
“I believe we can go 12-0 from this point on, I truly believe that,” Rolle said.
The odds are against them, especially the way the Giants are performing. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only the 1992 San Diego Chargers have started a season 0-4 and made the playoffs.
It’s been rough,” defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “I am here every Monday. It’s like you are almost listening to the same speeches. It’s the same type of feeling and it’s getting old.”