The trajectory of Eli Manning’s professional football career has been like no other.
Let’s begin with a little review in an effort to dispel any preconceived notions. For the first four years of Eli’s career, he was generally regarded by everybody outside of New York as a joke. Many Giants fans even shared this sentiment, although you’ll have a hard time finding one who would admit that now. All in all, this was a fair characterization. Eli never had a passer rating above 80, and never had a completion percentage higher than 60 percent.
Then everything changed on that crazy February day in 2008.
Eli summoned his inner Little Giants and hoisted his toilet paper roll into the night sky. David Tyree scratched his head at just the right moment and Rodney Harrison seemed to have lead in his shoes.
From that day forward, the average Giants fan felt validated. They would tell you that they put up with Eli’s first four seasons fully understanding that a Super Bowl would come their way. Many others would continue to see Eli’s performance as flukey and continue to question his legitimacy despite his Super Bowl title. Then he went on and won again.
When Eli won his second Super Bowl last February, everything changed again. His validation this time didn’t come solely from Giants fans. ESPN analysts lined up to throw Eli in a lineup of the game’s best quarterbacks. He had reached that upper echelon.
What really made this an interesting assertion is that Eli’s numbers never really popped. He’s thrown for more than 30 touchdowns in a season only once, and he’s thrown for 4500-plus yards only once as well. But with Eli, it was never all about numbers. The analysts would tell you that he was a winner. It made sense, given his two Super Bowl titles.
Further validation came in the form of statistics—the only commonly tracked stat that Eli has ever led the NFL in (aside from interceptions) is fourth-quarter comebacks. It might be ugly, but the man was getting it done.
Then this season happened. The defending Super Bowl Champions failed to make the playoffs, losing the division to a rookie quarterback and getting bested by Tony Romo in the process. Eli collapsed down the stretch in pretty terrific fashion. My point is not to say that you need to win it all every year—nobody does that.
My point is that Eli had it all this year. He had one of the most feared defenses in the NFL and a stable of offensive options that any QB would kill for. For a “top-tier” quarterback to not make the playoffs given this setup is a big deal. It should at least raise some eyebrows.
But when you couple it with what I’ve been selling all along, the reality that Eli has a serious turnover problem, I think Eli’s legitimacy should be seriously in question.
Now that you, Giants fan, are sufficiently pissed off (how dare I!), let me make a couple of clarifying points. I am not questioning the legitimacy of the Giants, I think they are a good team. And yes, I have seen Eli play very well. I have seen him come back and win in very impressive fashion. At his best, he’s dangerous, no doubt. But fourth-quarter comebacks don’t impress me when you need to come back in the first place because you’ve given the ball to the other team twice already.
Eli’s highs and lows have been very high and very low, but I’d argue that in order to be included in the lineup of the game’s best QBs you need to play at a high level with consistency. Tom Brady has done it. Peyton Manning has done it. More recently, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have done it. Eli Manning has not.
Eli’s 2012 campaign brought 9 wins and 7 losses, 3,948 yards, 26 touchdowns and 19 turnovers. Not bad, but certainly not top-tier (especially given the weapons he has). Trust me, I know the counter argument: two Super Bowls. I’d never argue against Super Bowls, as Super Bowls trump all. But let’s not allow the Super Bowls to skew the reality that Eli Manning is most certainly not a top quarterback consistently.
I’ve long compared Eli to Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, and have been ridiculed for doing so. Both players have less experience than Eli. Both players also throw more touchdowns and fewer interceptions than Eli. They complete a higher percentage of passes and have a higher career passer rating. But most importantly, they win more – and it’s not close. Eli’s career winning percentage is 57 percent, Ryan's is 71 percent and Flacco’s is 67 percent. I’m keenly aware of what Flacco and Ryan have done in the playoffs – nothing – but I’m also a realist in the sense that I see the numbers telling me that Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan consistently play the quarterback position at a higher level than Eli does.
So ask yourselves, Giants fans: Is Eli that good? What’s to say that with the team the Giants have built, those two Super Bowl titles shouldn’t be three? Or four?
Eli Manning’s inconsistency has undoubtedly hurt your franchise in the sense that he hasn’t been able to give the Giants an opportunity to win year in and year out. I think it’s only logical to think that if Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco was playing quarterback for the Giants they would have been even more successful, which is also a testament to how good the Giants are as a team.
A true top-tier quarterback may very well have won more titles for you—and the Giants might then be mentioned in the same breath as the Patriots when discussing the best team of the past decade.
Geoff Roberts is the Founder & Managing Editor of howiGit.com, a Boston sports blog.