ARLINGTON, Texas -- What if he didn't have that last name? What if he were Eli Jones? Or Eli Whatever?
What if Eli Manning weren't a Manning?
Would we look at him differently? Would we look at him as more than just Peyton's little brother? Would our microscopic dissection of his game be as severe?
"That name is both a blessing and a curse," one Giants defender said. "It means he might never get what he deserves in terms of recognition. And believe me, he's carrying us right now. Carrying us."
Guess what? He just might be right.
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Manning put on a show Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium, rallying the Giants from 12 down in the final six minutes to defeat the Dallas Cowboys 37-34 in a game that turns the tables on the seasons for both teams.
Thanks to Manning's 400-yard, two-touchdown game, the Giants now sit atop the NFC East standings at 7-6, tied with the Cowboys but ahead based on tiebreaker. For a team that had lost its previous four games and was playing for its season, the comeback prevented the vultures from circling around coach Tom Coughlin and might just give Manning the elite love he deserves.
"He said he was elite, and he's backed up," Giants tackle Kareem McKenzie said. "It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. He believes it. That's the most important thing."
Manning now has 4,105 passing yards and 25 touchdown passes for the season. But it's his comeback ability that is becoming his calling card. He did it in the Super Bowl after the 2007 season in the upset of the New England Patriots, but now it's becoming something he does with regularity.
This was the sixth game this season that Manning has brought the Giants from behind to win in the fourth quarter. The Giants didn't lock up the victory until Jason Pierre-Paul blocked Dan Bailey's 47-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds, but this was Manning's night.
The Giants have had big problems stopping the pass, and this game was no different. Tony Romo threw for 321 yards and four touchdowns for the Cowboys. When Romo hit Dez Bryant with a 50-yard touchdown pass to make it 34-22 with 5:41 left, the Giants' season looked to be done.
Then Manning drove them 80 yards in eight plays to a touchdown, the score coming on an 8-yard throw to tight end Jake Ballard. After Romo missed a wide-open Miles Austin on third down, Manning got his chance to win it.
All he did was take the Giants 58 yards in six plays to the winning score, which came on a 1-yard run by Brandon Jacobs.
The amazing thing is that Manning is making it look easy, even after Mario Manningham dropped the apparent game-winning score earlier in that drive. Manning is calm. He is sure. He doesn't seem to flinch, and he seems to actually like the challenge of coming from behind.
|New York Giants|
|At this point, this team just needed a win any way possible. To rally at the end and then block a late FG, it's exactly what this team had to do to save the season. Eli Manning was spectacular down the stretch and the defense bent a lot, but held on for just enough.|
|The Cowboys were right there in position to take it, up 12 with six minutes to play but once again the defense failed them in the clutch. Tony Romo was great except for one missed pass and now PK Dan Bailey hasn't delivered in two straight weeks.|
|By Nick Eatman |
"I don't feel any pressure when I am playing football," Manning said.
But he added a caveat to it.
"It's becoming a habit, a bad one," he said.
Bad, because how often can a team count on that to happen? At some point, the Giants have to stop living on the edge.
When you're as prepared as Manning is for what the opposing defense is doing, not falling off the edge is a lot easier to avoid. Manning is a film junkie, just like his brother. He knows what's coming at him from even the most creative coordinator, even outsmarting Rob Ryan and his many looks against the Cowboys.
Receiver Victor Cruz said there are times he expects the ball to come his way, based on the pre-snap read, and then Manning goes the other.
"And that guy is usually wide open," Cruz said. "He sees things before we can."
In any other year, when Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and Tom Brady weren't putting up record-breaking numbers, Manning would be getting MVP consideration. He is on pace for his best season ever in terms of numbers. And he has done so to compensate for a Giants defense that has been terrible.
His resiliency is also showing up in a lot of ways. With the Cowboys leading 27-22, the Giants appeared to be moving to a potential go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth, but Sean Lee picked off Manning's attempted screen pass, setting up Romo's throw to Austin.
"He was really upset over the interception, but he comes right back," Coughlin said. "He comes right back, takes the field, and away we go. Sometimes I wish I was in the huddle so I can hear what was being said."
Amazingly, it wasn't much. There was no fire-and-brimstone speech. Nothing.
"He's calm and casual and precise in telling us what we need to do," McKenzie said. "He doesn't get flustered."
The Giants now control their destiny as far as winning the NFC East. They have three games left, at home against Washington, against the Jets in their stadium and at home against the Cowboys the final week.
Without Manning's play Sunday night, they're done. Without his play all year, they might be 4-9.
"Look at our offense," one Giants coach said. "We are down so many guys and he's just making it all work. He's been unreal this season."
You can take the stake from Coughlin's back for now. He's not done yet. You can also take notice that this Giants team might be readying to make a playoff run.
Most of all, it's time to give Eli Manning the credit he deserves as a quarterback. He has one Super Bowl victory, but another one would give him one more than his brother and might give him that elite status that some still think eludes him.
He's not up there with Peyton, Brady, Brees and Rodgers and Roethlisberger just yet, but he's getting there.
The day is coming when he makes the claim as an elite passer, and it won't be news anymore, only fact.
Stop judging him based on how he compares to his brother and others and start judging him for what he is:
Damn good. Just remember, you can't spell elite with Eli.