In the wake of Eli Manning’s performance in the playoffs and Super Bowl (now being declared Teh Best Evaaar!), many sports writers are officially declaring him to be “grown up”, with many Super Bowls still to come.
I’ve always been an Eli Manning fan, and I think he deserves [almost] all the praise he’s been given for his performance, but let’s back up for a moment. Manning was swell against the Bucs. Against the Cowboys he played another fantastic game. In the championship game against Green Bay he was off and on, but still managed to outplay Favre when it really counted.
And now we get to the game against New England. On the opening drive Manning led the Giants down the field for the first score of the game, albeit a field goal. Later, he led the Giants all the way down into the red zone again, but this time Steve Smith couldn’t hang on to a well-thrown pass and Manning was picked off.For much of the rest of the game, Manning was largely ineffective, neither making big plays nor throwing backbreaking interceptions. Meanwhile, the defense kept up a relentless pass rush, forcing Brady to miss several wide open throws that could have changed the game entirely.
Then the fourth quarter came around. Early on, Manning led the Giants down the field again, capping it with a perfectly thrown ball to give the Giants a 10-7 lead. Brady came back and answered, putting the Pats up 14-10. Here’s where I have to disagree with everything else that’s been written. I don’t deny that Manning stayed cool and collected on that final drive. He made several great throws, and he didn’t make any crucial mistakes. Or did he? Manning threw two passes that should have been intercepted. How the Patriot defenders managed to drop those two throws will never be known, but the fact remains that the Giants should have lost. If you ran back the scenario ten times, nine of those times one of those two passes would have been picked, and we (everyone but Patriot fans) would be subjected to intolerable levels of Tom Brady worship.
Luckily for us, the potential interceptions were dropped, and a blown coverage on Plaxico gave the Giants a lead they would cling to for the duration of the game. Manning deserves major credit for staying calm and making one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history, but let’s be honest–the Giants’ defense was the real hero. They virtually shut down Randy Moss and made Tom Brady look very, very human. The offensive line that had looked invincible for most of the year suddenly started giving up sacks right and left (literally).
I couldn’t be happier for Eli Manning, but let’s not make this game something it isn’t. It was a great performance, but not a masterful one. It will cement Eli Manning as the starter in New York, and keep his job safe for several years. But let’s hold off on saying Manning has “grown up” or “come into his own”. He might very well have. But we’re dealing with a very small sample. Give him a chance next year, see how he plays, and then make a judgment.