Where Would Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin Be Without 2 Miracle Super Bowl Runs?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 28, 2014

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin talks to quarterback Eli Manning before the Giants' NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

As Eli Manning's older brother Peyton prepares for his third Super Bowl appearance, Eli remains in the spotlight because he still possesses an edge on his big bro in the championship department.

Despite the fact he's never been as good as Peyton during the regular season, he's a potential Hall of Fame quarterback right now because he made several epic throws and won two particularly epic games. 

And as the NFC East coaching carousel continues to turn, with Chip Kelly replacing Andy Reid in 2013, Jay Gruden relieving the fired Mike Shanahan this year and Jason Garrett on thin ice entering 2014, Tom Coughlin continues to operate with about as much job security as any head coach in football. That's in spite of the fact that Coughlin, Manning and the New York Giants have missed the playoffs in four of the last five years.

Because all that really matters is that the coach-quarterback tandem has won two championships in the last seven years—something nobody else in the sport has been able to do during that stretch. 

It's all too familiar right now, mainly because you've got Peyton Manning coming to MetLife Stadium, home of the Giants, for Super Bowl XLVIII. And Eli is watching, giving his brother advice. From Dan Graziano of ESPN.com:

"I might have a few things for him, but I don't want to reveal that, because I don't want to give it to Russell Wilson," Eli Manning said on a conference call Thursday. "So any tips I may have wind-wise, I would tell him in private."

Eli Manning did share his opinion that MetLife Stadium doesn't present the same kind of wind challenges for which its predecessor, Giants Stadium, was famous.

"The old stadium definitely had a specific end zone and corner that you wouldn't want to throw into if it was going to be a windy night," Eli said. "If it is one of those windy days, then there is a little bit of local knowledge that you can give. But it's definitely not as bad as the old stadium."

And Coughlin, who at 67 is the oldest head coach in the NFL, is staying out of the spotlight as much as possible, as per usual, while the league's second-oldest coach, 62-year-old Pete Carroll, prepares to go to work at Coughlin's team's venue on Super Bowl Sunday. 

He did, however, tell ESPN New York last week that he can see himself coaching for quite a while still:

Coughlin, who said in 2012 he could coach past his 70th birthday, was asked if he still felt he could work "well beyond" next season.

"I certainly do, and I'm blessed with good health and good energy and a routine that I think puts me in the maximum opportunity to stay healthy," Coughlin said before mentioning his wife. "The other issue, of course, is Judy. If Judy's healthy, and so on and so forth, and we both feel good about continuing ... then no doubt will we feel that way."

In light of it being Super Bowl week, let's look at where the two faces of the Giants would be right now if they didn't own lifetime membership cards within the Big Blue organization. 


Let's forget about Manning's first three seasons

Every top pick gets a few years to put things together, and although he didn't win a playoff game until his fourth year, he and Coughlin did lead the G-Men to the postseason in their second and third years together. 

Instead, let's pick it up in 2007, Manning's fourth season and the one in which the magic really appeared. He threw six touchdown passes and only a single pick in that postseason and manufactured two fourth-quarter comebacks en route to a thrilling Super Bowl victory over the until-then-unbeaten Patriots

It's easy to forget now that Manning was tied for first in the league with 20 interceptions that season. He averaged only 6.3 yards per attempt.

In November that year, before that run happened, this was an actual thread title on a KFFL message board: "How much longer does Eli have in New York?"

Before that run happened, this was an actual headline in a New Jersey newspaper, per the New York Times's John Branch: "Whatever ‘It’ Is, Eli Is Without It."

Two more from Newsday, according to the same source: "Unfortunately, Eli’s as Good as He’s Going to Get," and, "Eli’s O.K. — That’s the Giants’ Problem."

"Eli is average," wrote one commenter on that KFFL forum. "That's all he is and all he ever will be. His leadership qualities stink as well."

"Manning is widely being assessed as little more than an adequate quarterback," wrote John Branch in that Times story, "and a symbol of the team’s current role as a second-tier contender."

"Maybe he should be in Jacksonville. Maybe he should be in Atlanta or New Orleans," said former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason on a local radio station, per the New York Daily News. "New York is going to chew him up right now - and it has chewed him up for the last four years."

In that story, Ralph Vacchiano called the 26-year-old a "human pinata." Two months later, he'd explode in a way nobody expected.

Without that run, and that drive in particular, Manning wouldn't have gotten a chance to make history for a second time in 2011.

Chaos theory indicates that his path might have been completely different had he not come alive that January, or had he and David Tyree not hooked up on that improbable—nay, impossible—third-down pass for 32 yards with the Super Bowl on the line. Maybe he would have been better off in the ensuing three non-Super Bowl seasons, but that's hard to imagine.

After all, Manning was actually at his best in 2008, throwing only 10 interceptions and winning 12 games for the first and, to this point, only time in his career. But that pick rate rose again in 2009 and 2010. In the latter year, he led the league with 25 of them while averaging a measly 7.4 yards per attempt. 

In none of those years was he one of the 10 highest-rated passers in the league. He breached the top 10 to finish seventh in that category in 2011, which was his second Super Bowl season, but fell back out of the top 10 in 2012 and plummeted to 35th among 37 qualifying quarterbacks with a career-low rating of 69.4 in 2013.

This is a guy who at 33 is supposed to be in his prime, and yet he's been one of the lowest-rated, most mistake-prone quarterbacks in the league for two years running. And before that, he truly was average, Super Bowl runs notwithstanding.

What have you done for me lately? Not much...

Where Eli ranks, last two seasons
MetricTotalRank out of 37Ranked around him
Comp.%58.727thCassel, Henne
TD-INT ratio44-4230thLocker, Henne
YPA7.118thDalton, Stafford
Rating78.229thLocker, Campbell
Win-loss%.50016thRivers, Ponder
Pro Football Reference

Let's expand back to that 2007 season when things began to "take off"...

Where Eli ranks since 2007
MetricTotalRank out of 38Ranked around him
Comp.%60.024thFitzpatrick, Orton
TD-INT ratio175-12725thDalton, Campbell
YPA7.313thFavre, Cutler
Rating84.018thCutler, Orton
Win-loss%.58014thRivers, Warner
Pro Football Reference

During that span, he had a league-high 127 interceptions. Only three other quarterbacks—Drew Brees, Carson Palmer and Jay Cutler—had over 100. 

Keep in mind, too, that outside of those two unforgettable runs, Manning has an 0-3 record in three playoff appearances. In those three losses, he has two touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 48.4. Had the Giants gone one-and-done in '07 and '11, Manning would have run out of rope by now. 


If we're going to disregard Manning's first three seasons, we should probably do the same for Coughlin

Only fair. He came from Jacksonville and inherited the rookie quarterback in 2004. Although in Coughlin's defense, he found a way to get a so-so team into the postseason in '05 and '06.

And then there was that run in '07. Before that happened, when Manning was in the gutter, we were already writing the head coach off.

Coughlin's "hot seat was burning" as the season was getting underway on Sept. 5, according to the New York Daily News

But one Super Bowl didn't save Coughlin. No, he didn't become a football titan in this town until winning the next one. The Giants had too much talent to miss the playoffs in 2009 and 2010, and they had no business going one-and-done in 2008. As a result, people were again calling for his head when the G-Men lost four straight games in November and December 2011. 

After a 25-point loss on Monday Night Football in New Orleans, Bleacher Report's Alex Kay wrote unequivocally that Coughlin should be fired. Gary Myers of the New York Daily News suggested the same fate in the event that the Giants miss the playoffs, as it appeared they would. 

But then, of course, Coughlin and the Giants turned everything around with seven wins in an eight-game stretch, leading to another Rocky-Drago-style Super Bowl upset. 

Again, without those runs, Coughlin would be 0-3 in the playoffs in 10 years. Even if they'd gone on runs but fallen short of the Super Bowl both years, two playoff runs and five playoff appearances in 10 years shouldn't be enough. 

Giants: Average annual rankings since 2007
MetricAverage rank
Turnover dif.16th
Points per game11th
Yards per game12th
Giveaways per game19th
Pro Football Reference

I don't know if he would have been fired without that second run, but he wouldn't have survived back-to-back non-playoff seasons in 2012 and 2013, that's for sure. My guess is he'd be retired right now. 


So where would they be without those runs?

Neither would be Giants—I'm sure of that. Without the 2007 Super Bowl-winning season, they'd never have lasted long enough to make that second run in 2011.

The tougher question is where they'd be without the 2011 title. And honestly, I think they'd be wearing a lot thinner than they have with Manning, and there's a good chance Coughlin would be gone by now.

Of course, none of that matters now, because they did win it all in 2007 and they slayed Goliath again in 2011. For that, they've earned the right to quarterback and coach this team until they decided they've had enough.

At least that's the way it looks for Coughlin. Manning might have to show some improvement, but it's not as though there's a replacement warming up in the bullpen.  

Giants fans are happy with their Lombardi Trophies and probably won't complain, even if either man begins to do more harm than good by clutching onto that lifetime membership. I guess they'd better just hope that both Manning and Coughlin know when to walk away. 


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