Eli Manning: Why the New York Giants QB Will Take the Next Step in 2012

Louis MustoContributor IIIFebruary 20, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Quarterback Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants poses with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Giants defeated the Patriots by a score of 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Eli Manning proved he was an elite quarterback in 2011, but he must strive to be even greater in 2012.

After garnering attention and disdain from media personalities and NFL fans alike with comments in an August radio interview with WEPN-AM 1050’s Michael Kay, in which Manning placed himself in the same class as Tom Brady, the New York Giants quarterback backed up all his talk with the greatest season by a Giants quarterback ever. The season culminated in Manning and the Giants’ second Super Bowl victory in five seasons.

For the first time in Manning’s career, he is drawing respect rather than scorn, but now is no time to settle for all that he has accomplished in his eight-year NFL career.

Surrounded by a team that can only get better and a front office always striving to do so, Manning’s greatness and the Giants’ success are perfectly timed. Certainly a season in which the Giants quarterback threw for 4,933 yards, 29 touchdowns with a career-best passer rating of 92.9 will be difficult to top, let alone replicate in 2012. But if there were a quarterback in the NFL able to do so, it’s Manning.

Manning has made consistent progress over the course of his eight-year career. He is one of just two quarterbacks in the NFL with at least 3,000 yards passing and 20 touchdowns in the last seven seasons since 2005—his first full season as a starter for the Giants.

The two-time Super Bowl MVP has quickly become the greatest fourth-quarter quarterback in NFL history and he’s far from done. According to Cold Hard Football Facts, Manning is tied with Johnny Unitas for the most fourth-quarter comebacks in a quarterback’s first eight seasons with 21.

Manning's NFL-record 15 fourth-quarter touchdowns contributed to a record-tying seven fourth-quarter comebacks, lifting the Giants to seven of their nine regular season wins in 2011.

Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl champion, but he's far from finished.
Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl champion, but he's far from finished.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

His two game-winning drives in Super Bowl XLII and XLVI put him in comfortable company with the likes of Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.

In 2012, Manning must be even better.  And he will.

Driven by his love for the game and his need to win, Manning will not settle for being an elite quarterback. He wants to be the elite quarterback; he wants to be the quarterback everyone is compared to.

Heading into the 2012 season, Manning will have the opportunity to place himself atop the pedestal while leading his Giants teammates on an optimistic path to defend their Super Bowl championship.

With unquestioned, undoubted poise and leadership at the quarterback position for the Giants, there is no reason to doubt him. Manning is better than he has ever been, focused and dedicated to being the very best that he can be.

Combined with an unmatched unit of talent including the likes of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Ahmad Bradshaw, Manning is fully capable of becoming the sixth quarterback to pass for 5,000 yards in a single season. More importantly, Manning is on a favorably-timed upswing to surpass the likes of Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, three quarterbacks widely regarded as the very best in the NFL.

He has silenced his haters by accomplishing all that’s been doubted of him since the Giants traded for the No. 1 draft pick in 2004.

He has proven to be a quarterback capable of winning the Super Bowl. He has proven he is elite. With a few more great seasons like he posted in 2011, Manning is almost a sure-fire lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But in 2012, Manning will take the biggest leap of the career—becoming the best quarterback in the NFL.

And there’s not a single thing anyone can do to stop him.