Time for Eli Manning to Play Superhero Once More

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistNovember 7, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants celebrates with the Vince Lombardi trophy after the Giants won 21-17 against the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

I like to think of Eli Manning as an NFL superhero. That's because, with help from sidekicks like Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Plaxico Burress and Victor Cruz, he has saved this New York Giants franchise and its head coach on two separate and incredible occasions in the last six years. 

In both cases, the Giants came from nowhere to slay the villain-like New England Patriots and win the Super Bowl, with Manning capturing MVP honors thanks to some heroic championship-game feats. 

Manning is now in his 10th season, and the Giants once again need saving.

An 0-6 start had a lot of people thinking that head coach Tom Coughlin's time was running out, just as was speculated before Manning put on his cape in 2007 and 2011. Less than three weeks ago, Big Blue was one of only three winless teams remaining, causing many to conclude that the end of an era was near.

Where Manning ranks this season (among 34 qualifying QBs)
Comp. %TD %INT %YPARating
Pro Football Reference

The Giants still have life, though, thanks to two unimpressive victories over struggling opponents. As I previously wrote, with the NFC East remaining wide open, this team can still be saved. 

No team has ever made the playoffs after an 0-6 start, but Manning and the Giants have made a habit of defying the odds. If they're going to once again shock the world and regain relevance this season, "Manning the superhero" will have to act fast. There's no margin for error for a team that will have to win six or seven of its final eight games to make the postseason. 

The Vikings—the first team the Giants beat this year—can't beat anybody right now, and they were starting a completely unprepared Josh Freeman two weeks ago at MetLife Stadium. However, this matchup became a competitive contest in the second half. 

Then, the Eagles didn't have Nick Foles when the Giants beat them in Week 8, but Big Blue merely survived by the skin on their teeth in Philadelphia. They couldn't find the end zone once and settled for five field goals in a too-close-for-comfort victory over a team that had lost its previous nine home games.

The Giants will play the Raiders on Sunday. Yes, Oakland was crushed by Philly last week, but this team might actually be less forgiving than the Vikings and Eagles. Terrelle Pryor is a lot more dangerous than Freeman, a hobbled Michael Vick or rookie disaster Matt Barkley, and they still possess a defense that ranked fifth in the NFL prior to a flat effort against Philly. 

They'll be angry and looking to right that wrong in New Jersey, and that's why Manning will have to come up big. He might not need to do what Foles did to the Raiders, but he won't be able to get away with the mistakes that plagued him early this season or with the lack of execution that still caused problems in the two victories that preceded their Week 9 bye.

At the very least, the superhero has to begin warming up on Sunday. Green Bay, Seattle, San Diego and Detroit loom soon after that, and none of them present an easy task. They also have virtual must-wins against the Cowboys, who will be coming off their bye in Week 12, as well as the Redskins twice. 

This morning, AFC East blogger Erik Frenz and I debated which New York quarterback is more valuable: Manning or Jets rookie signal-caller Geno Smith. I took Manning's side, but that is only because I still believe that the superhero is still waiting to make his move.

Most superheros are ordinary schmoes by day and champions by night. Manning's been an ordinary schmo for some time now, but the lights are about to go out on the Giants. He has to transform himself right now, or it'll be too late to save Gotham. 

In fact, if that doesn't happen, the city could belong to Smith—a true Green Goblin.

B/R LEAD WRITER DEBATE: Geno Smith vs. Eli Manning in a battle of New York quarterbacks