Winnable Games, Losing Score

Kurt Warner can't remember the last time his team turned the ball over on three consecutive plays. It's quite possible that it's never happened before to a Warner-led team.

It happened Sunday, as the Giants dropped their second straight winnable home game. This time the Bears were all too happy to feed on the pathetic Giants.

There's no doubt New York should be sitting pretty at 7-1, tied with the Eagles, who got their first taste of the Roethlisburgh Steelers. Instead, the Giants still trail the Birds by two games and have no one to blame but themselves for another embarrassing home loss to an inferior opponent. There were no parallels to draw between the Detroit drubbing and the Bears bashing. Against the Lions, the Giants, coming off their bye week with a 4-1 mark, simply had gotten too full of themselves, didn't prepare properly and had their hats handed to them.

That wasn't the case against Chicago. Not only were the Giants prepared, but they jumped out to a 14-0 lead. The fact that they couldn't stretch that edge to 21-0 is the main reason they lost.

"Once the momentum shifts, it's hard to get it back," Tiki Barber said. "If we go up 21-0, we control what happens."

They actually appeared to have taken that likely insurmountable three-TD cushion. But Barber's 13-yard TD run to the left corner of the end zone was nullified when Amani Toomer, who's not exactly having a Pro Bowl campaign, was flagged for holding. Barber said he saw the flag thrown even before he reached the end zone, and knew his TD was coming back.

"There were a lot of penalties called on us," he said. Most of them were well deserved. Instead of regrouping and fighting their way back into the end zone from the Chicago 18, the Giants collapsed, with a Warner fumble starting the avalanche that didn't stop until the whole league was questioning New York's validity as a playoff contender.

How many times must they tell Warner to keep both hands on the ball when he's not throwing? Apparently, it doesn't matter. When Warner fumbled, it was the last time the Giants would even come close to scoring a TD until garbage time in the final period.

"I was just trying to get out of there," Warner explained. "I didn't realize there was a guy behind me."

That was the first of four turnovers compliments of New York's generous QB. His play was so bad that coach Tom Coughlin admitted that he considered putting rookie Eli Manning into the game. He probably should have.

Manning couldn't have done any worse than Warner, who looked an awful lot like the player the Giants beat up on during opening day last season, when they sacked Warner, then with the Rams, six times, and forced him to fumble six times, with the Giants recovering three of them.

After that game, Warner was diagnosed with a concussion. It wouldn't have been all that surprising if doctors concluded the same thing wrong with number 13 after the Bears beating. He was that bad.

"Hey, I made some mistakes today and cost us a football game," he acknowledged.

That he did.

But his teammates, including Ike Hilliard, who fumbled twice and lost one of them, and Barber, who was held well below his usual production level and was stopped on a fourth-and-one, rallied around Warner.

"It's not Kurt's fault," Barber said. "Kurt is our QB. He is our leader. He's going to be the guy that takes us where we need to be."

Not so fast. Coughlin is never going to be mistaken for Dan Reeves or Jim Fassel, coaches that were loyal to a fault. He's going to make a move when he deems it necessary, be it at quarterback, left guard or middle linebacker.

An upset but composed Coughlin confirmed that Warner had nothing to worry about - at least yet. "I know who the quarterback is next week," he said. "It's Warner. Kurt's the quarterback, Eli is the backup."

Coughlin stated that he wouldn't stand for the interceptions and turnovers that cost his club the game. "That won't happen on this team," he said. "If we have to, we'll run the ball and that's it."

If it comes to that, it's high time for Coughlin to put the rookie into the game. A slow start in Tempe, Ariz. Sunday is probably all that Manning needs to see his first legitimate playing time. Coughlin adamantly stated that Warner would start against the Cardinals. He said nothing about who would finish.

The Giants have already gotten a lot more out of Warner then they - or anyone else for that matter - could have hoped. It's safe to say that his leash has now been shortened considerably. Coughlin thought he owed it to Warner to give him a chance to pull this one out. Next time, Coughlin's not going to be as understanding and Warner's not going to be so lucky.

The time to make the inevitable change is not here just yet. It's just an awful lot closer than it was when the Giants had a 14-0 lead over the Lions at the end of the first quarter.

Eli Manning fans, rejoice. When the Falcons come to town on Nov. 21, Michael Vick might not be the only top overall pick to start at QB. He might just have company as a new era of Giants football is rapidly approaching.

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