Giants quarterback Eli Manning knows all too well what it's like to play under a microscope, and it appears that Peyton's little brother is starting to blossom in Gotham.
Manning is on pace to throw for 3,700 yards and 30 touchdowns, numbers comparable to his Gatorade-swilling sibling. He has tossed at least one TD in every game this season, posting a solid passer rating of 87.5. The Giants come into Sunday's prime time showdown with the Bears on a five-game winning streak, and the third-year signal-caller is a big reason why.
Manning knows he will face a serious challenge against a Chicago defense that is oozing with talent.
"Honestly, they have talented players all over the field," Manning said via conference call on Wednesday. "They have a good scheme. They try to stop the run by putting an extra guy in the box and are able to play man outside with their corners. I think it's just a matter of having a good mix of the run and pass, and obviously on third down, they do a good job of doing some different blitzes. They just have talented players and are well coached. You've just got to play sound football against them. You can't make mistakes. You can't give them opportunties. They cause a lot of turnovers. You've got to be smart with the ball and don't give them momentum by turning the ball over to them."
The G-Men started the season just 1-2 and were absolutely shellacked by the defending NFC champion Seahawks 42-30 in Week 3. That game was not as close as the final score would indicate, and Bears fans have reason to be optimistic considering that Seattle was whalloped themselves just one week later at Soldier Field. But that game will be six weeks in the rearview mirror by the time kickoff arrives on Sunday evening.
Manning said that his team's turnaround is largely a product of some collective soul searching.
"I think we just realized as a team we had to start looking at ourselves and looking at what each individual has to do to get better to help the team out," he said. "We were just making mistakes. We weren't playing sound football. We were just having turnovers and breakdowns. I think after that we stopped doing that for the most part. We just kind of said we've got to make the commitment to this team and playing better football, and for the most part, we've been doing that."
One of the mainstays for the Giants over the years has been the play of Tiki Barber at tailback. A versatile weapon both as a runner and a receiver, the former Cavalier unexpectedly announced a few weeks ago that he will retire after the 2006 season. Barber appears to still be at his physical peak, leading the NFL in rushing with 830 yards in eight games.
The timing of Barber's decision was certainly curious, but Manning said that the topic has not been a distraction.
"I don't think it affected the team," he said. "That's his decision, and that's next year. So we don't worry about next year right now. We worry about the upcoming game and what we've got to do to win each week, and so that's what our concerns are. And now we just know that with Tiki it's his last year. We can just wear him out now. We can give him the ball, and we don't have to save anything left for next year."
New York may indeed by the City that Never Sleeps, but Manning only worries about football despite the myriad distractions he faces on a daily basis.
"Well, my focus is on football," he said. "During the season, that's what I do. It's all about football and preparing and playing this game and trying to play it well. I don't read the papers. I don't get into hype or predictions or anything. I just try to go out there and do what's best for the Giants."
Despite the fact that the two have never faced each other in the pros, Manning actually has a winning record against Grossman. Back in October of 2002, Manning and Ole Miss shocked No. 6 Florida 17-14 as Grossman threw four interceptions in Oxford. It was the first win for the Rebels over a Top-10 team in five years.
Although bragging rights are big in the SEC, Manning doesn't see how a college game from half a decade ago will have any bearing on this Sunday's contest.
"Last time I faced Rex Grossman was my junior year in college at Ole Miss," he remembered. "We won the game. It wasn't a pretty performance by either offense, but that has nothing to do with this week though."
What may be a factor, however, are the weather conditions at the Meadowlands. Notorious for its howling winds that can redirect airborn footballs, both Manning and Grossman have the arm strength to cut through the elements. That being said, Mother Nature must be accounted for in the gameplan.
Manning has experienced just about everything weather-wise at home and has learned to adjust his game accordingly.
"It just depends on what the weather is," he said. "If it's a nice day and not windy, then it's just like playing anywhere else. If you get some windy days or rainy and cold, it can be difficult. It's just a matter of you've still got to make good decisions with the ball. You've got to know which way you're going sometimes and which way the wind blows and be smart with it."
Considering he threw three interceptions in relatively calm conditions this past Sunday agaisnt Miami, Grossman would be wise to be smart with it, too.