When asked if he considered himself in the same class as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Manning responded, "I consider myself in that class." What followed was a hailstorm of criticism and derisive laughter.
All the pundits, myself included, nearly choked on our lunches when we heard what Manning had said. This, coming from a quarterback who threw 25 interceptions last season? This, coming from a quarterback who had not once had a quarterback rating above 93 or a completion percentage above 63?
What was he thinking?
Well, whether he was right or wrong at the time, it is Manning who is now getting the last laugh.
Manning has been extraordinary this season, bringing the Giants back fourth quarter after fourth quarter, each time with the poise and precision of an elite quarterback. In fact, Eli Manning was better than elite this season in the fourth quarter.
Let's break down some of Manning's "clutch" numbers from this season:
- In the fourth quarter of games, Manning sported a 110 quarterback rating, tossing 15 touchdowns against just six interceptions, his best quarter by far.
- In the second half of games, Manning's quarterback rating jumped from 83 to 103, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio went up from 11:7 to 18:9.
- Manning's numbers while playing with a lead were a quarterback rating of 87, with a 5:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His numbers playing during a tie game were a quarterback rating of 78 with a 3:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His numbers while coming from behind? A 100 quarterback rating with a 21:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
- Lastly, Manning's numbers on third down were spectacular; he posted a 109 quarterback rating with a 13:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
I think you get the point. Eli Manning has finally made the jump Giants fans have been expecting him to make ever since his magical run in the 2007 postseason.
Fans had seen glimpses of potential, both in the '07 playoffs and the 2009-2010 season. But never had fans seen Manning play his best from start to finish. This season they got a chance to witness the full range of talent that made Manning the first overall pick back in 2004.
With a suffocating pass-rush and an above-average running game, Manning's arm was the only thing keeping this Giants team from greatness.
Now, with Manning making the "leap," the G-Men are on the fast track to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. They face-off against a red-hot San Francisco 49ers team coming off an emotional 36-32 shootout win over the high-flying New Orleans Saints.
In that game, passing yardage record-holder Drew Brees threw for 462 yards and four touchdowns.
Manning will look to continue that trend this week, only this time looking for a different end-game result.
No one will ever truly know what led to Manning's emergence this season. Was it the fact that his older brother, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts, was finally out of the action? Could it be that Eli just needed to get out from under his brother's shadow? Or maybe it was the arrival of Victor Cruz, the speedy, salsa-dancing wide receiver, that propelled Manning to superstar status.
Either way, it is official: Eli Manning is an elite quarterback, and he is here to stay.