Finally, Eli Manning and the Giants are back as a major threat

ByIan O'Connor ESPN logo
Monday, September 19, 2016

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jerry Reese, New York Giants general manager, summons Eli Manning, New York Giants quarterback, into his office every summer to share ideas on the 16 regular-season games to come. It is not an equal-time exercise. The GM does most of the talking, and the quarterback does most of the listening.

Some years, Reese challenges Manning to carry the team or take more chances downfield or be more careful with the ball. This year? Reese told on Sunday that he sat down with his franchise player and told him it was their shared responsibility, above all, to make sure their rookie head coach doesn't fall flat on his face.

"I told Tom Coughlin when I first got the job [in 2007] that failure wasn't an option for me," Reese said. "So I told Eli, 'Failure can't be an option for Ben McAdoo. It's on you and me to make sure he doesn't fail. We have to make sure he's here long after we're gone. We have to make sure his young kids graduate high school here.'"

In order to ensure that McAdoo's 7-year-old daughter, Larkin, and 4-year-old son, B.J., make it through a fine New Jersey high school while their father is coaching the Giants, Reese spent $200 million in the offseason on an unwatchable defense that allowed last season's New Orleans Saintsto score 52 points.

Manning? He showed up for work Sunday against his hometown team -- those very Saints -- to make his 196th consecutive start (postseason included), the third-longest streak in NFL history. It's an amazing run of durability in a sport growing more dangerous by the week, as evidenced by the frightening first-quarter scene of concussed Saints cornerback P.J. Williams being loaded onto a stretcher and carted off the MetLife Stadium field and into an ambulance.

Take a quick survey of the quarterback position around the league: Tony Romo is out again. Robert Griffin III is out again. Jimmy Garoppolo was a burgeoning sensation who couldn't make it through two games without getting hurt.

Manning made his first start in the middle of the 2004 season -- 2004 -- and hasn't missed a single game since. Despite his limited athleticism and modest (by NFL standards) physical stature, Manning had an almost magical quality to remain healthy passed down to him from his bigger, better brother.

Peyton Manning made 227 consecutive starts before serious neck injuries finally cost him his job and a full season of play, and it appears Eli has a good shot to pass his brother for second place on the consecutive starts list (Brett Favre's absurd record of 321 is out of reach). That's the best reason to believe the 2-0 Giants could finally be back as Super Bowl contenders.

Manning didn't throw a touchdown pass in this 16-13 victory over New Orleans; in fact, the Giants' only touchdown came on Janoris Jenkins' 65-yard return of a blocked field goal. But the quarterback did complete 32 of 41 passes for 368 yards, and he made two crucial third-down completions to set up the winning chip-shot field goal as time expired. Manning found rookie Sterling Shepard in the tightest of windows before the two-minute warning, and he overcame Odell Beckham Jr.'s drop of a coulda, woulda, shoulda-been touchdown pass on the final drive to give Victor Cruz a chance to make a breathless, 34-yard catch to the Saints' 2-yard line.

"Eli's our captain, our leader, the spearhead of this team," said linebacker Mark Herzlich, who has been with the Giants since their most recent Super Bowl season in 2011. "We love watching Eli play, and we love his poise. I think that's the one thing that keeps him healthy. He has poise in the pocket, poise as a leader and poise as a person."

Yet much of the postgame focus centered around the defenses that held two quarterbacks who combined for 13 scoring passes in last season's meeting to a combined one, the fact that the Giants survived three lost fumbles and the fact thatDrew Brees passed Dan Marino for third place on the all-time passing yardage list (Manning passed Drew Bledsoe for 10th). Giants kicker Josh Brown, who scored the decisive points in his return from a one-game suspension for domestic violence, drew a media crowd at his locker and foolishly failed to express remorse for his conduct.

It was a reminder that some people never get it and that some professional athletes can navigate long careers in the New York market without making a single mistake off the field or in front of the notebooks and cameras. Eli Manning, by the way, has been open about his desire to follow the Derek Jeter model: Do your job, conduct yourself as a pro and avoid creating a stir at all costs.

In his news conference, McAdoo was asked more questions about Eli Apple (one) than he was asked about Eli Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP. Maybe that's because Manning didn't throw for a score. Maybe that's because Manning hasn't been back to the playoffs since he won that second title for Tom Coughlin. Or maybe that's because Manning's presence is taken for granted, even in Year 1 of Peyton's retirement.

"I try to put in a lot of dedication and work to stay healthy," Eli said Sunday of his durability. "I don't know if it's my greatest trait, but I definitely like being out there for my teammates."

With Washington 0-2 and with Dallas and Philadelphia relying on rookie quarterbacks, Manning makes the Giants the favorites to win the NFC East. He isn't getting ahead of himself ("It's only Week 2," he said), but past performance suggests he has a chance to join Peyton, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Ben Roethlisberger as the only quarterbacks to win Super Bowls for two different coaches.

In the delirious moments after Manning won his second ring, Giants owner John Mara said his quarterback "has something different in his DNA than everybody else has. ... The more pressure on him, the better he's going to perform. There are very few people on the planet that have that, and this guy's got it."

Manning also has a team-centric sense of self. Asked why the Giants were suddenly making the game-shaping plays they couldn't make last season, the quarterback said through a smile, "The $200 million we spent, I think, right? I think that had something to do with it right there."

That was Jerry Reese's end of the bargain, his Steinbrennerian spending spree in free agency. Before the GM told Manning in their annual late summer meeting that they were both responsible for McAdoo's fate, Reese thanked his quarterback for not getting himself hurt in the preseason.

The GM knows what all interested New Yorkers know: If you give Eli Manning a competent defense and a few playmakers to work with, he'll give you a credible chance to win it all.

Related Video