The New York Giants' training camp motto was “we have to finish,” which is in reference to the end of games and the end of the regular season. To complete this task, QB Eli Manning knew he had to take his game to the next level and become an elite quarterback in the NFL.
This season, he rarely left any plays on the field.
Eli has become Derek Jeter: an All-Star player who takes his game up a notch come playoff time, especially on the opponent’s home field. In near-impossible situations, both have the rare ability to continuously make clutch plays and lead their teams to world championships.
Each has his flaws; Jeter hits into too many double plays or doesn’t have enough range defensively. Eli throws the ball up for grabs at times or has a poor completion rating, but no one can argue that both come into the playoffs at peak performance levels.
Manning has become “the champion of the fourth quarter,” as he’s rarely nervous in the last stanza of games. Case in point, with 3:46 remaining in the Super Bowl, the Giants were getting the football back and you knew the New England Patriots were in trouble. New York trailed 17-15, only needing a field goal to win the game.
After beginning the game-winning drive with a perfectly thrown pass to Mario Manningham, you figured the Pats would blitz Manning to create some chaos in the pocket. Instead, Eli systematically dinked and dunked them to death downfield. He never took more than what the defense offered, as New England effectively took away the big-play option from the Giants' passing game.
You love that Manning lacks short-term memory on the field, as Manningham failed to make that same catch on an earlier drive. If given the opportunity again, Eli still had faith in his receiver would make that tough reception late in the game.
His road to immortality hasn’t been easy, as Manning had to defeat the Green Bay Packers and the Patriots twice during both Super Bowl runs. To be successful at this high level, you have to minimize your mistakes and find a way to make plays.
As sports fans, we love Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter because they do come through in the clutch. Fans never hold them accountable for their occasional poor performance in a meaningless regular season game, but they hold Manning to a higher standard. Giants fans are often up in arms for a Week 7 loss, but not anymore. He receives carte blanche.
The majority of football fans will never consider him an elite quarterback. But, when the game is on the line, you want the ball in Eli’s hand because he just makes dreams come true.