FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Not long ago Eli Manning made what seemed a silly proclamation that he was a top-five quarterback and deserved to be mentioned in the same sentence with Tom Brady. Across the NFL, some people laughed so hard their fillings loosened.
Manning in Brady's class? Um, no. Shut your mouth, Eli.
Then comes a day like Sunday at Gillette Stadium and Manning isn't running his yap on the radio. He's actually playing against Brady (again). The real deal. Brady scores with 1:40 left in the game to take a 20-17 lead and Manning has a real, tangible chance to back his words, and make the doubters eat theirs.
And I'll be damned if Manning didn't do it. He beat Brady. Outplayed, outsmarted and outlasted him. I don't want to hear Manning wasn't playing Brady directly. No, not directly. They didn't put on boxing gloves and shin guards and step into a ring, but for all practical purposes this game was about Brady vs. Manning. Brady had lost both a Super Bowl and a perfect season to Manning, and Manning needed to back his words about being in an elite class with the best quarterbacks in football.
Manning aw-shucksed his way past questions of where he ranked and how he compared to Brady. Manning isn't stupid. He's going to take the victory and leave rankings to fools in the media.
"I'm just trying to play to the best of my ability," Manning said. "I'm trying to play quarterback and win games. I don't get involved in trying to rank someone or compare myself to someone else. I'm just trying to win games for the Giants and we had a big win today."
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He added: "I worry about my play, about what I think of my performance. It doesn't make a difference to me about what the media or fans say about me. I don't read the papers about myself or the Giants for the most part. I don't watch TV about the Giants and see what people have to say about me or us. I watch the film closely of myself and my teammates and try to put us in a situation to get better. I listen to our coaches, listen to their criticism and [take] their advice to heart and try to improve on each thing they tell me to do. I think those are the things you have to do to get better."
Yeah, sure, Eli. Sure.
He got the opportunity to prove he was on par with the best as the clock hit 1:36 left in the game and New York began its last drive at the 20. Manning's first pass was a nice throw to Victor Cruz for 19 yards. Eighteen seconds ticked away. Two Manning incompletions made it third-and-10 before he again threw a perfect pass, this time to tight end Jake Ballard for 28 yards, putting the Giants at the New England 33.
Still operating out of the shotgun, Manning next scrambled for 12 yards. Tick, tick, tick. Manning looked to Cruz again in the corner, knowing the Patriots defensive backs were playing him tight, and as the ball was in the air Cruz was interfered with leading to a 20-yard penalty and the ball placed at the Patriots 1-yard line. On third down and 19 seconds remaining, Manning found Ballard again for the touchdown. Ballard wears the same No. 85 once worn by Super Bowl side-of-helmet catcher David Tyree.
"You guys ask me this all the time," said Giants guard Chris Snee, when queried about how well Manning is playing. "He's on top of his game."
|New York Giants|
|The offense struggled in the first half and the Giants committed two critical fumbles on returns, but QB Eli Manning and TE Jake Ballard connected when it mattered most. P Steve Weatherford and the punt team deserve credit for keeping the Patriots off the board in the first half and RB Brandon Jacobs returned to form.|
|New England Patriots|
|The Patriots' offense had a severe lack of execution for the first three quarters, but the defense played well enough for the team to win. Tom Brady threw two costly interceptions and gave up a fumble. The defense couldn't hold on in the final drive, and the Patriots have lost back-to-back games for just the third time since 2002.|
|By Greg Bedard |
Running back Brandon Jacobs called Manning a "beast" in the two-minute drill. It was more than that. Manning looked like Brady. In that drive, Manning looked like his brother, too. And now, months after Manning made that summer assertion, we can say he was right. There's Aaron Rodgers -- who isn't human, but from a galaxy far, far away -- and then after that there is another group of great throwers and Manning must be considered near the top of that list.
Stop shaking your head no. Manning is as elite as they come.
Consider all of this. The Patriots had a 20-game home winning streak until Manning. The last time New England lost a regular-season game at home was Nov. 30, 2008, when Pittsburgh beat them 33-10. The Patriots also have lost consecutive games for only the third time since the start of the 2003 season. The Patriots had won 18 in a row at home against NFC opponents dating to 2002.
This is perhaps the most stunning statistic: the Giants ended Brady's 31-game home winning streak, which was the longest of its kind for any starting quarterback in league history. Before Manning, the last time Brady lost a game he started was in 2006 against the Jets.
Few quarterbacks have ever caused the kind of Patriots wreckage Manning has, and he's done it twice now.
Manning also won without two primary weapons, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. This was a battered Giants team.
"Look, everybody hates losing, man" Brady said. "It sucks. You put a lot into it each week and it sucks when you lose. But look, no one feels sorry for you."
Inside the Giants locker room, running back Brandon Jacobs picked up Tom Coughlin and set the coach atop his shoulders. A nice gesture.
But it was Manning who put the entire team on his shoulders. He won this game and any argument about whether or not Manning is elite after the destruction he leveled -- twice -- against one of the great franchises in the history of sports should end. Now.