As the Giants’ September 13 regular season opener rapidly approaches, the burden placed on their franchise QB Eli Manning to create magic is becoming increasingly heavy as he is charged with directing a collection of young receivers laboring to master their craft.

But Manning will need more than smoke and mirrors to approach the level of proficiency he produced with Plaxico Burress, a game-changing receiver the likes of which the Giants no longer have. And by signing a six-year, $97.5 million contract several weeks ago, Manning will be even more of a scapegoat than in the past for the plethora of haters who will roast him if the Giants’ offense sputters. The dye has been cast. His Super Bowl heroics will be a distant memory.

Following the Giants’ 27-25 loss to the Jets on Saturday, reducing their record to 1-2 with one more preseason game remaining–tonight’s (Thursday) match-up with the New England Patriots on the road (7:30 p.m.)–the unease regarding the receiving unit was palpable.

“I’m not worried about those guys,” said Manning. “They’re working hard in practice and getting better…We’re going to be OK.”

In contrast to Manning, when Tom Coughlin was asked to share his observations on their collective performance, the head coach’s review was dotted with warning signals.

“I learned that there were some inconsistencies, and we can’t have that,” he firmly responded. “It’s very concerning…”

Coughlin did cite Hakeem Nicks’ stellar evening as a ray of light subsequent to the rookie first-round pick amassing six catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Nicks’ showing notwithstanding, as a whole, several dropped passes and substandard route running by the receiving corps raised issues about the youngsters’ readiness. “We’re paid to catch the ball; this is what we do,” said second-year receiver Mario Manningham while standing in front of his locker. “There’s no excuse for dropping passes like we did tonight. Period!”

The skepticism surrounding the Giants’ offense created by the absence of a No.-1 receiver will not soon dissipate. And it can potentially evolve into sheer panic for Giants supporters who saw their championship hopes crumble last season with the loss of Burress.