Reason To Believe: The Dramatic Growth of Eli Manning

Ken BlairContributor IJune 21, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -  JANUARY 11:  Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants looks on against the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 11, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Eagles defeated the Giants 23 -11. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

It took winning a Super Bowl for me to believe in Eli Manning

Ever since he brought his team to the promised land, I now view him in a favorable light. In the end, that's all that matterscan we win it all with this guy? The answer, obviously, is yes.

If you asked me about Eli on Nov. 25, 2007, the answer would have been a quick and decisive "No."  He played a nightmare game against the Minnesota Vikings and was clearly in the middle of another of his "second-half swoons." 

When the Giants made the playoffs that year, I was skeptical if they would make much of the opportunityno matter how good they looked against the mighty Patriots in their Week 17 loss.

Manning looked good in a win over Tampa Bay, but it wasn't until he led an incredible game-changing drive just before the half in the next round against the Cowboys that I found both my feet planted on the bandwagon.

The next two games sealed the deal, and now I view his career in a new context.

He entered New York with a big name that carried big expectations, but he also inherited a team laden with strong personalities.

That, combined with his low-key manner, made it difficult for him to emerge as a leader.  But then Tiki Barber retired, and Eli was able to fill some of the void he left behind. The trade that shipped Jeremy Shockey out of town lessened the din in the locker room further.

And now Eli is finally, truly, the focal point of the offense. 

Brandon Jacobs and the crew of talented backs behind him will do a lot of the heavy lifting in the upcoming season, but Eli will once again be called upon to raise the level of his game to make defenses pay if they sell out to stop the run.

The loss of Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer can't be understated, but the receiving corps the Giants take with them is young and talented. Each of them will have to step it up now, week in and week out.

Still, in the end, it all falls on Eli's shoulders. The Giants have a whole offseason to devise a new air attack tailored to the skills of their largely inexperienced pass catchers. Eli will be the one pulling the trigger, and I have faith that he can get it done.