Hometown Return

NEW ORLEANS – Eli Manning didn't have much to smile about after his New York Giants fell to his hometown New Orleans Saints 49-24 Monday night.

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Oh, his personal statistics were impressive. He passed 47 times and completed 33 of them. He totaled 406 yards through the air. He even rushed one time for a positive four yards.

What did bring a smile to his face was a question about something his father, Archie, is dealing with currently.

The former Ole Miss and NFL quarterback is co-chairing the committee to select first a new head football coach to replace Houston Nutt and then a new athletics director to replace Pete Boone.

Manning, at 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, towered above the media from behind the podium positioned centrally on the riser. He expressed confidence in his dad's abilities to get the right man for the Ole Miss job despite the demands placed on him and the committee.

"I think he's got his hands full right there," said Manning, whose alma mater is searching for its third head coach since he left after the 2003 season. "I know he's working hard, and he's going to try to get Ole Miss a good coach."

The Mercedes Benz Superdome crowd of more than 73,000 mostly Saints fans seemed welcoming to the youngest of the three Manning brothers as he returned to his native city. But when those same fans needed to assist their own defense, it was tough for Manning and company to hear offensively.

"It's loud," said Manning, who grew up going to games in the facility. "I thought we communicated pretty well tonight. It is loud, but I thought guys communicated tonight, and that wasn't a problem."

The Giants fell to 6-5 with the loss, a game behind Dallas which is 7-4. Manning, who makes his home in Oxford when not in season, admitted there have been some offensive woes for his team this season.

"For whatever reason we haven't gotten off to fast starts offensively. That seems to have hurt us," said the former Ole Miss All-American and No. 1 draft pick in 2004. "In this game we started off good and we were driving. We had a turnover in the end zone. Their guy made a good play."

Eli Manning

The "good play" by Saints linebacker Will Herring, in his fifth year out of Auburn, was an interception of a Manning pass in the end zone intended for tight end Jake Ballard. The second-year pro from Ohio State was well covered by Herring, and it was Manning's lone interception of the night.

But it was a key moment since the Giants, on their first drive of the game, were trying to set a tone after the Saints failed to produce points on their initial drive.

"We moved the ball pretty well at times, got into scoring range, and for whatever reason we'd make some mistakes," Manning said.

The Giants narrowed a 21-3 halftime gap to 21-10 on their first drive of the second half. But that was as close as they'd get.

On the season thus far, Manning has completed 253 of 402 passes for 3,358 yards. That's succeeding on 63 percent of his attempts. He's thrown 20 touchdown passes and had 10 interceptions. He was exactly on form against the Saints with two scoring tosses and the lone pick.

"I thought he played for the most part well. Very well," said veteran Giants head coach Tom Coughlin of his quarterback's performance Monday night. "The ball got out of his hand quickly. We kind of stifled their pressure, and he did a good job."

Manning said through 11 games isn't the time for an evaluation of his own season. The Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XLII said the regular season has five weeks left, and he's focused on those games and hopefully getting into the playoffs.

"I'm not into evaluating right now," he said. "We've lost our last three games, and my focus is on getting better and being more consistent offensively. We've got five games left and these five are all big. They'll determine our season."

Manning's teammates didn't hesitate to talk about their offensive leader's season. He got high marks from a couple of his receivers.

"I think he's having a solid year," said third-year NFL player Hakeem Nicks out of North Carolina. "He's hitting a lot of new targets out there. There's a lot of guys stepping up for him, and he's getting the job done."

"This is my first season with Eli," said wide receiver Devin Thomas, a fourth-year pro from Michigan State. "I think he's handled himself well. I think he's having a great season. This year I believe he's made a lot of corrections, and he's having a really good year."

Thomas expanded his thoughts to include more on Manning.

"He has a funny sense of humor. I don't think a lot of people know that," he said. "He can be really funny. He cracks some jokes.

"His composure and poise (in games) are evident," Thomas continued, then talking about the Giants' last win, a 24-20 late-rally against New England on Nov. 6. "In the Patriots game, in the fourth quarter of that comeback, he was just poised and was that same guy. He's just a leader out there."

Manning said he's definitely keeping an eye on the coach search proceedings at Ole Miss. He looks forward to a resolution of the selection to replace Houston Nutt.

But he still won't intervene and tell dad how to handle things.

"I don't have any advice," Manning said, "but I hope he picks a good one."

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