Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The difference between success and failure in the NFL has never been finer.
That's why a team which placed a Super Bowl countdown clock in its own locker room and fancied itself as a legitimate title contender before the season can fall to 0-5 a scant five weeks later.
Hindsight says the New York Giants dream of playing in another Super Bowl in their own backyard was nothing more than a fairytale, derailed by a perfect storm of injury and ineptitude that has engulfed "Big Blue" and head coach Tom Coughlin.
By the end of the Giants' latest collapse, an ugly 36-21 setback to lightly regarded division rival Philadelphia on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, even the North Jersey faithful recognized just how bad things had gotten, serenading its former heroes off the turf with a healthy chorus of boos.
"There are only two ways to finish out this season," said veteran defensive lineman Justin Tuck. "Figuring out some kind of way to right this ship and get some positive momentum going here. Or you can sulk and feel sorry for yourself and have the worst season ever in Giants history."
It's already the team's worst start in a non-strike-shortened season since 1979 when Joe Pisarcik kicked off that campaign at quarterback for Ray Perkins until the coach pulled the plug and went to rookie Phil Simms, a move that eventually jump-started the franchise and returned it to relevancy.
Barring a hiccup here and there, New York has remained competitive ever since, punctuated by its four Super Bowl championships after the 1986, 1990, 2007 and 2011 seasons.
Another Super Bowl berth is a non-starter now. Since the NFL changed to the current playoff format in 1990, no team has started 0-5 and made it to the postseason. So, perhaps the Giants' new goal should be avoiding the franchise- worst 0-9 start of the 1976 team.
"I'm always going to come out here fighting," safety Antrel Rolle said. "I don't care if we are 0-15. We just need to pick it up. We need to pick it up. Get our head out of our (behind) and pick it up. That's the reality of it. We are losing games around here and that's not Giants football we are playing."
Things have gotten so bleak that Coughlin, the two-time Super Bowl winning coach, finally pointed the finger of blame at his two-time big game quarterback Eli Manning.
"I honestly believe that he's trying so hard to get us a win, he's almost put too much on himself," Coughlin said. "He keeps it all pretty much inside. I'm not making excuses. There were a couple of those plays that were terrible."
Manning threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter on Sunday and is now on pace to give it away 38 times, an almost laughably inefficient performance considering all the changes to the game in recent years that have favored the offense, particularly the passing game.
An NFL signal caller hasn't tossed 30-or-more interceptions in a season since 1988, when Vinny Testaverde had 35 for the Buccaneers. Again, though, that was an era when defenses were actually allowed to do some things without seeing yellow -- or in October, pink -- littering the field.
To be fair to Manning, his offensive line has been awful for most of the season and the running game non-existent.
"We're throwing the ball a lot and we're obviously low on running backs right now," Manning said. "I thought we left some plays out there, some balls down the field. I missed a couple -- a couple that were very close to being made. We just have to keep finding ways to make those plays. You don't get a whole lot of second chances in this league."
Even with the obvious deficiencies, second chances shouldn't be needed with weapons on the outside like Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and the emerging Rueben Randle, who caught two TD passes against the Eagles. In fact, it's hard to buy into the narrative that Manning is trying to lead the Little Sisters of the Poor.
"I know I can play better," Manning understated. "Sometimes, things are going to go wrong, but you've got to make the best decision. Throw it away, take a sack. I know I can't keep turning the ball over."
The football gods are more than a little ironic, however, and Manning's next test will be in Chicago on Thursday night after a short week of preparation against the NFL's most opportunistic defense.
The Bears "D" has 10 interception-return touchdowns since the start of the 2012 season -- the most in the NFL -- and has scored three defensive touchdowns so this season.
"We have to stay positive," Manning said. "We have a short week and we play on Thursday night, so we've just got to keep working and I've got to start playing better football and making better throws, and putting our team in a better situation to win some games."