Time for change

The time has come. <BR><BR> There's no better phrase to describe the New York Giants' current situation. It's time for the Eli Manning era to start.

Manning himself, will only say the right things, giving credit to starting quarterback Kurt Warner, and stating that Warner gives the team the best chance to win. But, when pressed with the question of would he be ready to play right now if he had to, he stepped up.

"I think so," Manning said confidently. "I think I'm learning the offense, and I know it well enough where if I had to come in the game, I'd be ready."

Let me state for the record that this is not the column that I set out to write. However, in the wake of Bears 28, Giants 21, when New York's season quite possibly turned on a dime, it's impossible to see it any other way.

Let me also state for the record that this is absolutely not an indictment of Kurt Warner, who has long been one of the class acts in the NFL. This column is more an indictment of the team as a whole, and a statement about what is clearly best for its future.

Best is playing Manning - and now.

Warner still has a lot left, and on a better team, with a more experienced offensive line, he could certainly find himself back in the Super Bowl one day. But not with this team.

This team needs a few more pieces than Warner, a former Super Bowl MVP and two-time league MVP. It needs to have the offensive line stay healthy and jell. It needs at least one more playmaker on defense. It needs to decide its short-yardage runner, which seems to change on any given week.

And while it may not seem pleasant, Warner is not going to be here in two years, likely not even next season. So what is the point of trying to be an above-average team with little-to-no chance of reaching the Super Bowl for one year? How does that help Manning's development?

The Cincinnati Bengals, not exactly the prototypical organization to emulate, certainly learned that lesson the hard way. And, they're currently paying the price with Carson Palmer going through his learning experiences this season. And for what? So they could go 9-7 in 2003, a season in which they still missed the playoffs?

Playing Manning now is the right move. The loss to Chicago was not only a loss to a team that had won only two of its previous seven games; it was also the second straight home loss for the Giants. Things got so bad against the Bears that New York coach Tom Coughlin considered putting in Manning right then and there.

"I considered it," Coughlin admitted. "But at that point, we were 5-2. The game's in striking distance, Kurt's the quarterback - let him do his job."

Well, the Giants are no longer 5-2, after they could not mount much of an offense against the Bears. Now it's time to let Manning do his job. This team as currently constituted is not a Super Bowl team. But, they are competitive and currently in position for a playoff spot, although that could change with both Atlanta and first-place Philadelphia heading into Giants Stadium in the coming weeks.

Still, they will be all the better for it next season, perhaps with a realistic chance of winning the division, if Manning takes his lumps now. Much of the Giants' core talent is young. Safety Gibril Wilson looks so good that he could wind up being New York's first rookie defender to make the Pro Bowl since Lawrence Taylor in 1981. Second-year defensive end Osi Umenyiora is cut in the Michael Strahan mold when it comes to pass rushing, and before being lost for the season, Strahan had taken the young stud under his wing.

On offense, tight end Jeremy Shockey has made the Pro Bowl his first two years in the league. Veteran running back Tiki Barber is playing his best football ever, and still has a couple of good years in him. Why not throw Manning into that mix and let his talent blossom. What are the Giants waiting for?

When you consider what Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is currently doing, keep this is mind: Manning was picked 10 spots ahead of him. Also consider that most teams don't pick a player at No. 1 overall and sit him on the bench. The Bengals are the rare exception.

When asked about Roethlisberger, Manning's response was again, the right one.

"I can't worry about what anyone else is doing," he smiled. "I've got to take my situation and make the best of it."

As should the Giants. And, the best thing right now would be for them to change from who they are into what they're going to be.

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