Signs of Greatness By E. Manning
PHILADELPHIA--Two games into his third pro season, Eli Manning has arrived as an honest-to-goodness NFL star.
The youngest member of quarterbacking's first family has been closely scrutinized by NFL observers, of course, since the buildup to the draft when his refusal to play for the San Diego Chargers helped to produce the trade that sent him to the New York Giants. Manning took over as the Giants' starter nine games into his rookie season but won only one game that year, and he had his ups and downs last season in his first go-around as a full-time starter. He put up big numbers at times, but faded down the stretch and threw too many interceptions.
This season, it appears that Manning has taken the next step toward being an elite quarterback. He opened with a solid performance in a loss to older brother Peyton and the Indianapolis Colts, and here on Sunday he performed the sort of quarterbacking magic that Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi figured Manning had in him when Accorsi agreed to the trade that ending up giving the Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and linebacker Shawne Merriman (who was drafted with one of the picks that Accorsi sent to San Diego in the deal).
The Giants were staring at an 0-2 start when they trailed the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-7, in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon. Tailback Tiki Barber was finding nowhere to run and the Eagles were all over Manning, blitzing their way to what ended up being an eight-sack day. But Manning stayed calm and kept slinging passes down the field, and when he was done the Giants had escaped Lincoln Financial Field with a stirring 30-24 overtime triumph.
Manning finished with 371 passing yards on 31-for-43 throwing accuracy, with three touchdowns. He went 8 for 8 in overtime and completed his final 13 passes, other than a clock-stopping spike during the final drive in regulation.
"He led us," Barber said. "I think in years past, we wouldn't have won that game."
Manning made two particularly remarkable throws in crunch time. The first came on the Giants' final drive of regulation after they'd gotten the ball at their 20-yard line with 58 seconds remaining. They had no timeouts and were trailing, 24-21. After two completions totaling 18 yards, Manning managed to release an on-target throw to wide receiver Tim Carter while being dragged to the ground by an Eagles defender. That 22-yard play helped to set up kicker Jay Feely's tying field goal in the final seconds of regulation.
On the Giants' second possession of overtime, they faced a third-and-11 predicament at the Eagles 31 after a false-start penalty on center Shaun O'Hara. The Eagles came with the blitz. But Manning got off a well-placed lob pass to wideout Plaxico Burress, who had one-on-one coverage by Sheldon Brown and outmaneuvered the cornerback for the catch and the winning touchdown.
"We knew they were coming with an all-out blitz," Manning said. "They showed the same thing the play before. I knew exactly where I was going. I just told Plaxico to run a 'go' route. There was no middle safety and when you have a 6[-foot-]6 receiver, you figure either he was going to catch it or no one was."
Said Giants Coach Tom Coughlin: "He made two unbelievable plays in this game, that one and the one to Tim Carter."
The victory left the Giants, the defending NFC East champions, in a three-way tie for first place in the division at 1-1, instead of trailing the Eagles by two games already.
"We kept coming back and fighting back and it wasn't pretty, but it was effective," Coughlin said. "It was a hard-fought division game. To come from that far behind is something.... We kept playing. We kept trying to make something happen."
Said Manning: "This is a sweet one. This is one you'll always remember. We were down 24-7. We couldn't move the ball. We couldn't do anything, and so many guys stepped up and made the plays we needed to win the game."
More importantly, the win reinforced the Giants' growing belief that they have one of the game's truly special quarterbacks, one who thrives in the toughest of circumstances.
"He was very calm with it, not affected by anything," Barber said. "He kept his composure. That's in character for him."
By Mark Maske |
September 18, 2006; 10:14 AM ET
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