Eli Manning threw his 13th interception of the season just three plays into the New York Giants' opening drive of Thursday night's game. The outburst of tweets after that moment was impressive, but it paled in comparison to the explosion that occurred on the Giants' second drive of the game, when a short pass intended for Rueben Randle wound up in the arms of Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings, who ran the ball back 48 yards to give the Bears a 7-0 lead.
Manning's final numbers were 14-for-26 for 236 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He kept the game close, which proved his resiliency to some extent, but those three picks highlighted how maddeningly inconsistent he has been this season. After throwing his second interception, he had at that point completed just four of his prior 17 pass attempts with five interceptions. He started Thursday's game 1-for-5, then went 13-for-21 the rest of the way. So why is Manning putting Giants fans through such agony?
The answer is difficult to discern. One possibility is that Manning is trying to do too much. He is averaging more than 40 pass attempts per game this season, which is significantly more than he averaged over the course of any of his nine other seasons in the NFL. Throwing often and throwing when defenses expect you to throw is a bad recipe for a lot of quarterbacks.
The fact that the Giants have been trying to overcome big deficits late in games more often this season doesn't help. Manning attempted 62 percent of his passes in second half of games entering Thursday. Last year when the Giants were a nine-win team, a healthier 42 percent of his pass attempts came late in games. The higher concentration of passes in the third and fourth quarters have defenses pinning their ears back. Nine of his 12 interceptions entering entering Thursday have come in the second half of games this season, seven of them in the fourth quarter.
That said, there is a reason (or many reasons) the Giants have been in so many late-game deficits. Manning hasn't been good early in the games, either. He had a 50.6 quarterback rating in the first quarter of games this season entering Thursday, a number that couldn't have improved factoring in his two early picks. The lack of a running game has to bear some of the brunt for Manning's struggles. The Giants were averaging fewer than 57 yards rushing per game before playing the Bears, ranking last in the NFL. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Manning seemed to find a rhythm after Brandon Jacobs got going. Jacobs had 57 yards rushing in the first half alone, and Manning looked like his old self for a little while, even finding Randle for a score.
Of course, Manning has to bear some responsibility. Plenty of quarterbacks have thrived in pass-happy offenses, after all. Five other quarterbacks are averaging more than 40 attempts per game, and all five have higher quarterback ratings than Manning. Drew Brees has thrown 12 touchdowns to four interceptions. Matt Ryan has thrown 10 touchdowns to three picks. Brother Peyton Manning is just under the benchmark at 198 pass attempts on the season, but his unreal 20:1 TD:INT ratio can't be ignored.
On Thursday, Manning capped the loss with his third interception of the night with under two minutes remaining in regulation, on a drive that could have been the game-winner. He had an open Brandon Myers down the right, but Manning sailed the ball high through Myers' hands and Tim Jennings was ready for his second interception of the game. The pick was Manning's eighth fourth-quarter interception of the season, when no other quarterback in the NFL has more than three.
Manning has been the cause of more "is he, isn't he" elite debate than perhaps any current player in the NFL, but the one thing few could deny was his ability to win games late. He currently ranks No. 17 all-time with 28 career game-winning drives, which is fewer than only Brady, Brees, Peyton and Ben Roethlisberger, among active quarterbacks. Manning may not have been dealt the best hand this season, but he hasn't looked much like his former self, either. Unless he can turn his season around, the Giants' season will go down with him.