|Eli Manning doesn't scare anyone running, but leading the Giants down in the fourth quarter? Terrifying. (AP)|
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning beat the Washington Redskins in the final minutes because that is what he does -- win big games in the final minutes. Division games, conference championships, Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, cereal bowls -- no one is better at the fourth-quarter comeback.
But we also saw the future of the NFC East at quarterback and it isn't Manning -- it's Robert Griffin III.
Griffin put on a show before the biggest of media stages, and again demonstrated why he might be the most electrifying player in the league right now.
Griffin stood cleat to cleat, throw to throw with Manning, the most clutch of pass-throwers, in what had to be the day's best QB battle. The veteran would make his great play for the Giants. The rookie his. Back and forth it went. Griffin seemed to have won the game on a perfect 30-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, giving Washington a three-point lead with 1:30 remaining.
Back came Manning, in typical Eli form, with a 77-yard pass to Victor Cruz that would eventually win it for New York 27-23. It was the longest game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes of a game in Giants history.
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When you look up clutch, there is a picture of Manning, holding the ball in one hand, and the other team's ripped-out cardiac muscle in the other. This was the 22nd time in Manning's career he led Giants from a fourth-quarter deficit to either tie or win. It was the second time this year Manning has done it, and the eighth time in the past two seasons.
"Does he ever cease to amaze me?" asked Giants coach Tom Coughlin about Manning. "No. He keeps hanging in there and banging away and banging away."
Eli then Griffin, Griffin then Eli. Elite vs. the Feet.
We know Manning can do this. Manning is certain to go down as one of the more elite two-minute quarterbacks in NFL history. What we are learning is that Griffin has -- to borrow a phrase from a certain basketball savant -- extra large, organic onions. No, Griffin wasn't perfect, fumbling twice and being intercepted once. He would momentarily devolve into a series of turnovers, after spending much of the game mind-bogglingly good, but that is what rookies do. There is mental toughness, physical prowess and untapped skill in that body and it's all likely to only get better.
If a great magician could run a 4.3 40-yard dash and throw a football on a rope at light speed, this is what he would look like. The Redskins wisely have crafted an offense around Griffin's abilities rather than force-feed him into a pedestrian NFL system. The result is Washington uses disguised pitches, cutesy handoffs and reverses like trick pulleys and levers that both take advantage of Griffin's multifaceted skill set while also totally bamboozling a defense.
It was easy to see how Griffin made the Giants so nervous it opened up the Washington running game. When Griffin sticks the football in the runner's gut, panic must set in. A defensive lineman thinks: Do I worry about running back Alfred Morris getting the pitch or Griffin turning on the jets? You focus on Griffin, of course, which is why Morris had 120 yards on 22 carries.
Name your excellent Griffin play. There were numerous candidates on a day he went 20 of 28 for 258 yards, two scores and added 89 yards rushing, including a 24-yard scramble that set up the Moss score. There are the throws he made. Like the one on third down to wide receiver Leonard Hankerson that traveled like it was wind-aided by a tropical storm. There were so many throws like this: accurate, strong, just outside the outstretched arms of a defensive back.
Then there were the throws he didn't make. Griffin did have some bad ones but they were rare. One play in particular shows how smart he is. In the second quarter, Griffin had what looked to be a receiver wide open deep but Giants safety Antrel Rolle was playing possum. He was setting Griffin up. Griffin knew this and went underneath to the tight end. Most rookies, hell, some veterans, would have tried to force the throw past Rolle.
"When you break down containment, and he goes outside," said Coughlin, "you're just praying someone can run him out of bounds."
"That guy is flat out unbelievable," Giants defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora told reporters after the game. "I'm not going to lie. That's the best [quarterback] we've played this year for sure. And it's unfortunate that he's a rookie because he's going to be around here forever doing stuff like that, and that's just crazy."
Manning runs like he's falling down a flight of stairs. His throwing accuracy and tough mind make him one of the most formidable quarterbacks of our time. He won the big game. In the last minute. As he often does. As he often will.
One day, we might be saying the same about Griffin.