PITTSBURGH -- At the start of what Ben McAdoo called "real football," he better hope he didn't just see the real Giants' offense.
But unfortunately for him, 12 games into the season, it sure looks like that what it is.
It remains the biggest mystery of the Giants' season, and at this point very likely the key to their demise: What has happened to what was once, and was supposed to be again a top-10 offense? The Giants gained an embarrassing 234 total yards in Sunday's 24-14 loss to the Steelers.
But that's nothing new. Remarkably, that was only their third fewest this season. They've had four games in which they didn't reach 300 total yards, and have been held to 351 yards or fewer in nine of their 12 games.
It's the same play-caller and quarterback, and largely the same personnel from an offense that ranked eighth and 10th in the last two seasons. It's gone beyond a simple struggle. It's become a mighty fall.
"We are who we are right now," McAdoo said. "We need to go back to work. You can't just flip a switch and have things change. You have to put work into it. It has to pay dividends for you."
Of course, they have been working since late July and the dividends remain tiny. They entered the game ranked 22nd on offense and will certainly slide a little more. Not that it matters, but the Steelers only ranked 19th in total defense and their passing defense actually ranked 23rd. But the Giants came out misfiring anyway with just 91 first-half yards, including only 70 through the air.
Eli Manning threw 39 passes, but completed just 24 for 195 yards and was picked off twice. After being targeted only once in the first half (for a 10-yard catch), the Giants ran their entire offense through Odell Beckham Jr. in the second half, but his 16 total targets only resulted in 10 catches for 100 yards. The Giants ran for only 56 yards. Victor Cruz was held without a catch (and a target).
For anyone who pointed to the Giants' offensive flaws during their six-game winning streak against inferior competition, this was a doubters' delight.
The Giants, though, do somehow not doubt their ability to be an explosive offense. Even though this team topped 30 points seven times last season, it hasn't topped 28 once all year long.
"We've just got to keep working and trying to improve," Manning said. "We're doing some good things. We're making some drives. It's going to be a challenge every week. You never know when we can break out."
"I think everything will gel," Beckham added. "It will all click at some point. It needs to be very soon. Like next week. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. It needs to be very soon."
Yes it does, though it's getting increasingly hard to believe it will be. Twelve games is a distinct trend, not an anomaly. The Giants scored two touchdowns against the Steelers -- once when the defense got a turnover that set them up at the Steelers 17, and another in garbage time. The defense played another tough game for the Giants.
The offense just clearly isn't good enough to keep pace.
And that's a problem as this stretch of "real football" continues. Next up are the 11-1 Dallas Cowboys, followed by the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions, before they finish on the road at Philadelphia and Washington. None of those games will be easy.
The next two, in particular, figure to be impossible if the Giants' offense can't find its long-missing extra gear.
"We are good enough to compete," Manning said. "It was just a matter of those couple of plays difference or a couple of inches difference - instead of getting possible touchdowns, getting no points. We've got to improve and get better at some things, but we are good enough to compete."
The body of evidence suggests that's true of the Giants' defense, but definitely not of the Giants' offense. And if they don't suddenly and miraculously figure out the problem, the offense will be the reason their season ends long before they feel it should.
"I mean, I don't think we jumped ship after one loss," Beckham said. "We just won six, you know what I mean? It's not something that's all over for us. If that was the case it would feel like that and it doesn't feel like that. We've got a very good chance at doing what we need to do. We've just got to handle the rest of the games."