The 2011-2012 NFL season is now complete, and the New York Football Giants are once again on top of the world after securing their second Super Bowl title in the last four years, defeating the New England Patriots, 21-17 on Sunday night in Indianapolis.
It seems rather fitting that, in the stadium that his brother Peyton built, little brother Eli Manning achieved football greatness on Sunday. The Manning family has turned Indianapolis into their own private playground, and if Peyton Manning is indeed done with the Colts heading into next season, what better swan song could be envisioned than a Manning hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Eli Manning played brilliantly, protecting the football while leading his team to a turnover-free game and accumulating 396 total yards en route to his second Super Bowl MVP award. Manning went an astounding 30-of-40 passing, throwing for 296 yards and a touchdown.
The performance included an 88-yard drive for the eventual winning touchdown with less than four minutes on the clock. Eli threw for 74 of those yards, including a massive 38-yard completion to Mario Manningham to open the drive.
All night long, Eli's poise in the pocket provided the Patriots defense fits. It was an all-around epic performance for one of the league's best fourth-quarter quarterbacks.
Clutch doesn't even begin to describe how good Eli Manning has been in the fourth quarter of games in his career, let alone the Super Bowl.
After leading the Giants on a game-winning touchdown drive late in Super Bowl XLII in Arizona, Manning and the Giants once again go toe to toe with what on paper appeared to be a superior team. But we must look deeper than the numbers; Manning has done what only 10 other men in the Super Bowl era have accomplished by winning multiple Lombardi Trophies.
Of the active players in the league, the only others to have accomplished this feat were Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers...and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. The other names on the list? Only a group of the game's elite passers: Bart Starr, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Joe Montana, Jim Plunkett, Troy Aikman and John Elway.
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With two Super Bowl titles, Eli Manning automatically puts himself into the discussion for "Best Quarterback Alive" along with the aforementioned Brady. When it comes to the NFC, only Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints have any sort of claim at being Eli's equal.
It's not always pretty, nor is it flashy; yet Manning has consistently demonstrated an uncanny ability to go on the road in big-time games and win. Lest we forget, Eli and the Giants had to take the fight to Lambeau Field against the reigning world champions (and the eventual MVP in Rodgers), then turn around a week later and play in messy San Francisco against one of the most punishing defenses in the game this year.
Eli's unusual draft circumstances left a bitter taste in many NFL fans, and playing in the fiery tempest of the New York area only leads to bitterness from fans of the other teams. Even so, Manning's heroics late in games cannot be dismissed.
Perhaps more than any other quarterback alive right now, Eli Manning stands as the visual representation of the consummate clutch athlete. When it counts, Manning delivers in spades, and his team now has a pair of titles to show for it.
But this all begs the question: Is Eli Manning the greatest quarterback alive right now?
Well, that's probably a debate that will take place over the offseason. What we do know, however, is that Eli Manning has twice beaten one of the greatest postseason quarterbacks in NFL history, and has emphatically stamped out the Patriots' attempts to regain the initiative in Super Bowls.
Manning has outlasted some of the game's premier names in the playoffs: Favre, Brady, Rodgers. Can a case be made that Eli is the best in the game? Definitely. But where do the Giants go from here?
With Manning at the helm, the New York Football Giants look to remain a perennial challenger in the NFC for some years to come. Young weapons on both sides of the ball only add to the big-game presence of the league's next burgeoning superstar.
Whether or not you would argue that Manning had achieved that status prior to tonight is of no consequence anymore; he is a superstar, and he's well on his way to becoming the premier postseason quarterback of the next decade moving forward.