Let's go back 14 months.
People questioned the Giants quarterback, wondering if it was time to cut the cord with the former No. 1 overall pick after that game. In fact, before the famous Week 17 game in which the Giants almost beat New England, he had thrown 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
For three seasons those numbers were excused as the trials and tribulations of a young quarterback. But at some point, production needs to replace potential and pedigree.
In that regular season matchup with the Patriots, Manning finally showed why he was so highly-touted coming out of Ole Miss, going 22-of-32 for 251 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception.
Then, in the playoffs, Manning fulfilled everyone's wildest expectations, leading the Giants to an improbable Super Bowl victory. The interceptions that had plagued him were gone, with six touchdowns outweighing a sole pick in the playoffs
Super Bowl championships cloud bad memories, and for good reason. Playoff successes clearly take precedence over regular season failures.
But Sunday's playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles shows that Eli Manning has a long way to go before he is considered anywhere near the elite class of quarterbacks.
He finished 15-of-29 for 169 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions—a performance that simply will not get it done. The Giants had the best running game in football and the Eagles knew that, but Manning provided little to no threat of a passing attack and the Eagles knew that too.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of Manning occurred in the Giants' first two drives of the fourth quarter. Down by two scores, time was of the essence. Yet, look at their first drive, starting with 14:50 to go in the game.
|1st-10, NYG24||14:50||B. Jacobs rushed to the right for 11 yard gain|
|1st-10, NYG35||14:21||B. Jacobs rushed to the right for 5 yard gain|
|2nd-5, NYG40||13:44||B. Jacobs rushed to the right for 2 yard gain|
|3rd-3, NYG42||13:03||D. Ward rushed to the left for 2 yard gain|
E. Manning rushed up the middle for no gain
It's one thing to dance with the girl you brought to prom. The Giants are a run-first offense. Nobody questions that. Especially without Plaxico Burress, whose infamous transgressions have been well-documented.
But five plays, not one pass, and the one play the Giants relied on Manning, he rewarded them with a poor effort on the fourth down quarterback sneak.
Still, this drive standing alone doesn't tell the whole story. After all, in a nine-point game and with those downs and distances, running the ball did make sense. But let's look at that drive in conjunction with the Giants' next drive, with the same score and 10:22 to go.
|1st-10, NYG11 ||10:22||D. Ward rushed to the left for 14 yard gain|
|1st-10, NYG25||9:47||D. Ward rushed to the right for 9 yard gain|
|2nd-1, NYG34||9:09||D. Ward rushed to the left for 5 yard gain|
|1st-10, NYG39||8:31||E. Manning passed to A. Toomer down the middle for 6 yard gain|
|2nd-4, NYG45||8:05||B. Jacobs rushed to the left for 2 yard gain|
|3rd-2, NYG47||7:24||D. Ward rushed to the right for no gain|
|4th-2, NYG47||6:28||B. Jacobs rushed to the right for 1 yard gain|
With less time on the clock, and starting at their own 11 yard-line, again, the Giants tried to run the ball down the Eagles' throats, even with time ticking away and just one timeout to stop it. The one throw came on a 2nd-and-1, an obvious throwing situation, and a down and distance set up perfectly for Manning to catch a defense off-guard.
But once again, when they needed a first down, everyone in the stadium knew they were going to run the ball, and they could not get it done. It was evident that Tom Coughlin did not have confidence in Manning to make plays down the stretch. He chose to run off four minutes of the clock to get 40 yards rather than trust his quarterback.
There are countless excuses to be made for Manning. He was going against one of the top defenses in the NFL. He didn't have his No. 1 target. The wind was whirling.
All are valid excuses, but in the NFL playoffs you have to play through that. Manning wasn't the only reason the Giants lost, but he was inaccurate all day long and Coughlin did not have faith in his quarterback.
And he proved it by throwing an interception on his third throw the next drive.
Listen, Manning was far from the only reason the Giants lost this game. The offensive line didn't get enough push on the aforementioned plays. The defense didn't play its "A" game. Coughlin wasted a timeout on the 3rd-and-3 play on the first drive mentioned when Derrick Ward clearly was short of the first down marker.
Manning also deserves the benefit of the doubt for a year. It's foolish to simply dismiss the fact that he is a Super Bowl MVP.
But Eli still has a long way to go to reach the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, where his older brother is firmly entrenched.