If the New York Giants are going to make the playoffs, they must find somebody to get them through these next two ballgames -- and I know just the guy to do it.
Eli Manning, come on down.
Now, more than ever, it's time for Eli to be Eli, which means it's time he shakes a funk that has him and the Giants on a rollercoaster that threatens to derail them from the playoffs.
The Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions, and when they're on they can't be beaten. Only one problem: They're not usually on.
They didn't show up last week. They didn't show up two games before that. And they didn't show up two games before that. I think you get the idea: Now you see them, now you don't ... and if they pull another disappearing act Sunday vs. Baltimore it's hasta la vista, baby.
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So they must find someone, some thing, some way, to straighten them out, and Manning is the ideal choice ... because he's done it before.
It's no coincidence that when he's on his game so are the Giants. But Manning has been atypically quiet lately, with no touchdown passes in four of his last seven starts -- three of them losses -- and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that an encore ends a season that began with so much promise.
Yeah, I know, the Giants' pass rush hasn't been all that great lately, either. In fact, it's been as ineffective as Manning, with a total of two sacks in four of the past five games, and that can't continue, either. But it's a quarterback-driven league, and it's time Manning does the driving.
The Giants say that running back Ahmad Bradshaw should return to the lineup Sunday, and that can't do anything but help an offense that was shut out last weekend. But they need Manning back, too, because without him playing as he did in last year's playoffs this club's next big game is on somebody's fairway.
A reporter I trust told me he thinks the Giants are running on fumes and this close to collapsing, but I'm not so sure. No question, they're a team that needs something to wake them up, but that's why there should be a call to arms -- with Manning's arm the one I have in mind.
The Giants started their playoff drive a year ago in the 16th week, first beating the Jets, then hammering Dallas to win the NFC East. They knew then what they had to do, and they did it -- responding with six straight wins to finish the season and clinch their second Super Bowl in five years. I don't suggest that these Giants are a Super Bowl team waiting to happen, but I do suggest they have no shot if Manning doesn't come around as he did in 2011.
In his last six starts then, he had 13 touchdown passes, two interceptions and no defeats. Now, look at his last seven starts this season: He has 8 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and is 3-4. Basically, he's become an ordinary quarterback, and the Giants have become an ordinary team -- capable of changing personalities only when Manning shows up.
So show up, Eli. Make the throws that humbled New Orleans and crushed Green Bay. Trade in the touchdowns for the field goals that finished you in Washington. Get the ball to Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, and let them be the playmakers they were down the stretch in 2011.
In short, be Eli Manning.
The Giants have been wildly erratic, but that's because they are who their quarterback is ... and, yes, Manning has been wildly inconsistent. In his first six starts, he never had a passer rating under 86.3 and twice eclipsed 103. But his four worst figures have been in the last seven games, with Manning producing a season-worst 38.9 rating last weekend in the loss to Atlanta.
That won't cut it, folks.
"Are you surprised with his inconsistencies?" coach Tom Coughlin was asked this week.
"It kind of goes along with what I've been saying," said Coughlin. "We've tried like heck to talk about ascending and not having that very good game ... then that not-so-good game ... and then a very good game. Evidently, we haven't gotten that message across. Now, there's no way it can't be. We're all going to have to play at the top of our game just to get in."
"Is Eli about as good a 'back-against-the-wall' guy as there is?" someone then asked Coughlin
"Yes," he said.
Well, then, it's time to prove it. Again. Because if he doesn't ... if he can't ... the Giants are finished.