CINCINNATI – The best game of Andy Dalton's career saved the Cincinnati Bengals' season, ended their four-game losing streak and provided a chance to get back into playoff contention with a strong closing run.
Things aren't so upbeat for the defending Super Bowl champions. Sure, the New York Giants are still in first place, but their trend is definitely down.
Dalton threw a career-high four touchdown passes — each to a different receiver — for a 31-13 victory Sunday that left the Bengals revived and the Giants reeling.
The Bengals (4-5) knew they had to win the game to have any realistic chance of making it to the playoffs.
Now, they get to play Kansas City and Oakland the next two weeks with an opportunity to get back over .500.
The odds are still against them, but the win over New York (6-3) kept them in it for at least a little while longer.
"To beat the defending Super Bowl champs is a big deal," said Andrew Hawkins, who had the second of the Bengals' four touchdown catches. "The NFL has great parity. This was a great example of it. Today we played extremely well. Spirits were high."
The Bengals were spirited leading up to the game. Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green told a New York sports radio station that the Giants "have a lot of holes" on their defense, which has given up a lot of big plays.
Some of the Giants were miffed. Safety Antrel Rolle said he'd let his pads do the talking during the game.
Rolle gave up one of the four TD passes, and the Giants were pretty much out of words to describe their all-around worst showing of the season.
"Just a little subpar from what we're used to," said Victor Cruz, who had three catches for only 26 yards. "I don't know how to explain it. I don't know what's going on. I don't know what's wrong."
It's starting to feel familiar. Last season, the Giants also opened 6-2, then dropped four in a row. The Giants won three of their last four to reach the playoffs, where they got hot at the right time.
"Obviously we know that last year we went through a tough stretch and we were able to come out and win some games when we needed to, get back in the mix and make the playoffs," Eli Manning said. "We still have the lead in the division now."
The Giants remain ahead of Dallas (4-5) in the NFC East, but head into their bye week with a lot of problems. The most puzzling ones involve the offense, which was one of the league's best the first six weeks but has fallen apart.
Manning threw for only 125 yards — his lowest total in four years — during a sloppy 24-20 loss to Pittsburgh a week ago. That showing could be excused after the Giants spent their preparation week dealing with the fallout of Superstorm Sandy.
There was no explanation for this one. Manning threw two interceptions in the third quarter that set up Cincinnati touchdowns, and the Giants had four turnovers in the second half. Plus, Cruz dropped a potential touchdown pass while the Bengals pulled away.
"That's what won the game for us, getting the ball with great field position and scoring when we got down there," said Dalton, who was 21 of 30 for 199 yards without a sack or interception.
Manning was 29 of 46 for 215 yards with no touchdowns, a season-high four sacks, the two interceptions and a fumble.
"I still believe Eli will bounce back and will play the way that he has played, at a championship level," Coughlin said. "I certainly don't quite understand where we are and why."
Manning couldn't uphold the family legacy of beating the Bengals. A week earlier, older brother Peyton led the Denver Broncos to a 31-23 win in Cincinnati, improving to 8-0 career against the Bengals.
Even though he got a scouting report from his brother during the week, Eli couldn't pull it off before a less-than-capacity crowd of 56,614. He fell to 1-2 career against Cincinnati.
"No, I'm not worried," Manning said. "Over the years, we've gone through stretches where we haven't played our best football and we've been able to bounce out of that, and that's what's going on right now."
The Giants' defense also has big issues. Cornerback Corey Webster let Green run past him along the sideline on the game's fifth play, thinking a safety was behind him to help. Wrong. Green was wide open for a 56-yard touchdown that proved Green's point.
Right away, he'd found a huge hole in New York's defense. The Giants have given up 39 passes of 20 yards or more, 10 for touchdowns.
"Their defense is great," said Green, who had seven catches for a game-high 85 yards. "We were able to break some big plays."
NOTES: The home team has won every game in the series, which the Bengals lead 6-3. ... Giants WR Domenik Hixon left in the first quarter with an ankle injury and didn't return. ... It was the first time this season that Dalton didn't throw an interception. ... Green has a TD catch in eight straight games, tying T.J. Houshmandzadeh for second-longest streak in Bengals history. ... There were nearly 9,000 unused seats at Paul Brown.
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