Monday, December 12, 2011

Eli Manning Leads Giant Comeback, Not as Bad As You Think

He may have been a bit erratic in his ability to lead the New York Giants within an unsystematic division. In criticizing Eli Manning’s quarterback misery in a town where the media is critical with underperforming athletes, unafraid to boldly mock and taunt a player in a tabloid piece, he has silent his detractors by piloting the Giants to beat the Dallas Cowboys 37-34 Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium.


It is unfair that he dutifully takes much burden of the blame for his teammate’s failures when the Giants underachieve. Only hours after he carried the Giants to victory in a crucial must-have, Manning was praised. It’s not a joke. He was remarkably on the road at a hostile environment, and more specifically, at football’s colossal palace, performing at will as one of the league’s elite quarterbacks when he began to contribute to the Giants’ comeback late in the game.

He wasn’t clumsy and couldn’t turn it over, steadily scrambling in the pocket to avoid sacks and pass rushes. The awareness in his eyes was serious, a determined expression that advertised a vintage team leader as Manning was mistake-free under pressure situations to quiet the untamed folks in Arlington, Texas. The extolled hero conducted a rally from 12 down in the final six minutes, and before we even belt out the name, expectations are on the rise as many anticipate that he will manage to drive the Giants to the playoffs, all while New Yorkers nod in gratitude.

One can argue that he’s now a likable but not a polarizing figure after saving the Giants’ season. The truth is, the Giants are alive, still healthy within a division that is volatile and tight heading down the stretch, sitting atop the NFC East standings at 7-6, tied for first with the Cowboys. It’s a good thing the Giants are not on life support, on pace to win their division title and earn a playoff spot in a race that might be decided on the last day of the season. It was yet an excellent performance in essentially a critical game that Manning was better, and probably had his best game this season.

The perception might be that he can very well lead the Giants after losing four straight against steadfast opponents. If and when Manning becomes dynamic, gauging his persona to increasingly help his growth as a team leader and try channeling his brother, Peyton, on the playing field, he’ll measure up to greatness. The heavyweight fight Sunday night in the Big D told us something right there.

It told us that he’s not as awful as people portray him and can really engineer a beautiful comeback, like the one against the Cowboys in which he carried the Giants to two touchdowns in less than three minutes and he finally was relieved by his supporting cast. They played like contenders Sunday, while Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan stood around on the sideline furious, watching Eli propel his team to an eight play, 80-yard drive in 2:27. He keeps proving he’s only human, in reality and as a star quarterback, which tells us he’s Eli at his best, enduring the challenge as the athlete.

It’s beyond any miracle to think, Manning, nearly four years removed from his lone Super Bowl title, is a horrible quarterback erasing a 34-22 fourth-quarter deficit with 15 unanswered points in the closing minutes of the game and launching the come-from-behind fourth quarter. In these distressed times, fighting for survival each week, he finished with 400 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. When he saw his intended wide receiver, Mario Manningham, he tossed the ball in his direction but unfortunately he dropped it, blundering on a play that would have given the Giants a go-ahead touchdown. The clue here is that Manning is a clutch performer and has 14 fourth-quarter touchdown passes this season.

He is, standing alone in this category, the only quarterback to have more touchdown passes in the final quarter, tied atop the list with Johnny Unitas and his brother, Peyton. The likable Manning brothers, enduring the fuss of a cordial sibling rivalry on the verge of captivating ones attention, only if Peyton recovers from his neck injury to return healthy by the time next season begins, are the all-encompassing athletes of the league. Imagine if he weren’t in the shadows of his brother? If he weren’t a Manning, in relations to Peyton Manning, would we perceive him differently?

Maybe!

What’s easy to point out is that he now has 4,105 passing yards and 25 touchdowns. The hottest athlete in the league is no one other than Manning, mainly because he is known for his comebacks, a knack that better describes his ability to lead his team from behind. If we were paying more attention, we’d recall the moment he drove the Giants in the Super Bowl during the 2007-08 season in the upset of the New England Patriots.

For the sixth time this season, coming in a game that Jason Pierre-Paul blocked Dan Bailey’s 47-yard field goal attempt, in a game that the quarterback connected with tight end Jake Ballard for an 8-yard touchdown pass and in a game that Brandon Jacobs stormed into the end zone for the winning score on a 1-yard run, Manning has brought the Giants back from behind to win in the fourth quarter. The defense was the Giants only flaw and as every defender, from Corey Webster to Justin Tuck to Antrel Rolle stared forlorn, head coach Tom Coughlin was moments away from a five-game losing streak and maybe even being unemployed.

With the crazy coach benching Ahmad Bradshaw for the first half for violating team rules, the challenge from the Cowboys was largely a stiffer task but the Giant lifesaver was Manning for the G-Men. This was the night when the Cowboys blundered after Romo missed a wide-open Miles Austin on a third-down, the night when Eli proved his skeptics otherwise and knew the importance of getting the win.

If he’s not perfect, he’s surely resilient and poise, saving the Giants from brutality. In months, he’s improved his play, and in most cases as of now, there’s no need to worry to death about his lack of ball security when he has not fumbled or lost the ball by foolish turnovers. In this season, when we pay more attention to Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady amazed by their record-breaking plateaus, Manning sits in the shadows not even in conversations for MVP honors.

The claim has already been made and, in clarity, it seems he is one of the league’s elite passers, just like his brother a few seasons ago.