At the end of a most trying week, Eli Manning had one of his worst games.
The Giants quarterback threw for only 125 yards — his lowest total in four years — during a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that capped a week of digging out from Superstorm Sandy. Like so many others on the East Coast, Manning lost power and spent a lot of time worrying about others.
No surprise, really, that the Giants looked a little lost during the 24-20 defeat.
"There was a lot, I'm sure, on people's minds," coach Tom Coughlin said. "We tried to stay as focused as we could. I thought we did a good job on Saturday night (preparing for the game). In addition to that, we were recognizing and honoring our military on Sunday.
"But we obviously didn't play well, and there's no real excuse for that. As you look back at it, it certainly had to be a troubling time for the players."
Things are closer to normal for the Giants (6-3) as they get set for their final game before a welcomed bye week. Their game in Cincinnati (3-5) represents a chance to get things right on the field before their week off to continue fixing up things at home. The defending Super Bowl champions held onto a two-game lead in the NFC East when the Cowboys and Eagles also lost last week.
The Giants came away thinking it could have been a three-game lead.
"Obviously, we had a tremendous opportunity that we did not take advantage of," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "We understand that. We understand you can't let too many of those go by. Not in this business. You have to be on top of your game week in and week out, so we let one get away."
They have a chance to get back against the Bengals, who suffered their fourth straight loss when Peyton Manning and the Broncos beat them at Paul Brown Stadium last Sunday. The elder Manning threw for three touchdowns in a 31-23 win that put the Bengals on the verge of another lost season.
Peyton and Eli chatted about the Bengals defense during the week, getting younger brother ready for his notable trip to Cincinnati. It's only the second time that a team has hosted the Mannings in back-to-back weeks. Tennessee did it in 2006 and beat them both. Peyton improved to 8-0 career against Cincinnati with the win last week. Eli is 1-1 career against the Bengals.
Eli is coming off one of his worst games, completing only 10 of 24 passes against Pittsburgh. He led the Giants to three comeback wins earlier in the season, but the one bad game raised a lot of concern among Giants fans.
"You learn that can be the deal around here," Eli said. "Just the way it goes. We didn't play well. We had a chance to win in the fourth quarter and we didn't come through. That's what it boils down to. We've been good in those circumstances and last week we were behind and couldn't catch up. That's part of football and a learning experience."
After losing a fourth-quarter lead against Peyton's team, the Bengals know what's ahead against his younger brother's championship team. They know they're facing another elite quarterback, even if some fans still have doubts.
"I think a lot of elite quarterbacks are chasing Super Bowls, and he has two," cornerback Terence Newman said. "So I don't know if he's chasing that (elite status). If I call recall, he's been the Super Bowl MVP twice. That speaks volumes and it speaks for itself."
For the Bengals, it's another — and perhaps final — chance to make themselves relevant. They've lost their last three home games, leading fans to expect yet another lost season. The Bengals have only three winning records since 1991 and have gone 0-3 in the playoffs.
The game against the defending Super Bowl champions failed to sell out by Thursday's deadline, meaning it will be blacked out on local television. The Bengals had sold out their first four home games, but the four-game losing streak changed public perceptions.
"I've never lost four in a row," second-year quarterback Andy Dalton said. "Never lost three in a row. This is the first time, and we have to find a way to get out of it.
"It comes down to getting one win at this point. That's the goal, to win one. We have lost four in a row but it takes one to get you out of that streak. You can't worry about anything else. Our goal is to get a win this week."
A fifth straight loss and the bigger goals are probably gone.
AP sports writer Tom Canavan in in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this report.
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