Manning shows poise, penchant for rookie mistakes

For everyone watching, from the fans and players to the national press, this is the drive they came to see. Rookie Eli Manning, the NFL's number one pick making his first start for the Giants, barked out signals from the shotgun with 1:52 on the clock and a chance to move his new team 74 yards for the winning touchdown.

With one timeout left, having burned two on one third-quarter drive, Manning took the snap from back-up center Wayne Lucier. Before he could set his feet, the young apprentice was sacked faster than a Donald Trump firing by Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking. The rookie fumbled and Brady Smith recovered the ball.

The crowed sighed; then it cheered. Cornerback Kevin Mathis was called for defensive holding.

Like he had done all day, Manning shrugged off the nightmare play, and zipped a ball seven yards to Jeremy Shockey on the next play. Running back Tiki Barber shot up the middle on a draw play for 13 yards. When Barber was slow to get up after a vicious hit, the Giants burned their final timeout.

Then Manning, seemingly on the verge of driving the team the remaining 49 yards with 1:17 on the clock, turned back into a rookie and threw two incomplete passes in a row. On 4th-and-3 at the Falcons 42-yard line, Manning faded back and quickly looked for the guy he sought out all game - Shockey. Unfortunately, Brooking, the defender who was there all game, quickly broke it up. Incomplete. Game over.

"It's a position you want to be in," Manning said. "As a quarterback you want to have the ball in your hands when you have a chance to win the game . . . They just made plays and we didn't."

All in all, Manning played admirably for a rookie. Let's emphasize, for a rookie. After a poor first half, in which he completed just 5-of-14 passes for 46 yards, an interception, and a QB rating of 15.8, Manning came back strong in the second half, putting up 10 points, including his first NFL touchdown pass to Shockey. He completed 12-of-23 for 116 yards and finished 17-for-37 for 162 yards, with two picks and a 45.1 rating. Considering Warner was benched with a QB rating of 85.5, more than 4 points higher than Michael Vick's 81, the Giants appear to have sacrificed any chance of making the playoffs in order to groom their prized rookie.

Even though Manning's numbers were hardly Peyton-esque, the Falcons were impressed.

"He's a tremendous talent and showed something today," said Brooking, who led his team with eight tackles and broke up two passes. "He was smart and made good decisions and we had quite a rush on him."

Defensive tackle Rod Coleman actually was surprised by Manning's quickness in the pocket.

"He was getting out of the pocket and getting rid of the ball real fast," Coleman said. "He wasn't giving us the opportunity to sack him. I was so tired out there (on the last drive). We were just saying, 'We've got to stop him.'"

With minus-one yard rushing, Manning, despite his relative quickness in the pocket, was the antithesis of the other former number one QB, Michael Vick. The Falcons leading rusher improved his season total of 536 yards with 104 more on the ground, giving him five career 100-hundred yard rushing games, an NFL record for a QB. He also threw for two scores and sported a 109.4 rating.

Still, Vick had nothing but positive things to say about Manning.

"I told him that he played a great game," he said. "His first game starting there is a lot of hype and a lot of pressure on him. He came out and played with poise and he made some plays. Like I told him, I think he is going to be just like his brother in due time."

Obviously, "due time" won't be this season.

Game Notes
Emmons-ent danger: It was a play that Giants fans, fearing the worst, knew was going to happen. On the key play of the game, the Falcons faced a 3rd-and-13 on their own 9-yard line with 5:03 left and a tenuous 14-10 lead. Vick rolled left with linebacker Carlos Emmons and cornerback Will Allen bearing down. He quickly threaded a line drive to Peerless Price that bounced incomplete. And almost expectedly came the flag. Emmons was tagged with roughing the passer and the Falcons got an automatic first down. They proceeded to milk the clock down to the 2-minute warning before giving the Giants one last possession.

Lassoed: In the first possession of the second half, Vick escaped Norman Hand only to be slammed to the turf by Osi Umenyiora and Lance Legree for 4-yard loss. It was the first sack of the game on Vick who had galloped for 91 yards in the first half.

Sanders behind center: Barry Sanders was probably hundreds of miles away enjoying retirement, but it sure looked like he was serving as Michael Vick's legs. Vick put on a dazzling display of fancy footwork making guys miss more than the LA Clippers attempting threes. The Giants did cause Vick to fumble twice, but were unable to recover either of them.

20 for Tiki: Almost overlooked in the loss was Barber's seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season (107). It was the 20th of his career, a new Giants record eclipsing the 19 Joe Morris compiled.

Inactives: Rookie safety Gibril Wilson (shoulder) was replaced by Terry Cousin, who played for the Falcons in 2000. Center Shaun O'Hara (ankle) sat out for the third time in four games, and was replaced by Wayne Lucier. Barrett Green missed his third straight game with a knee injury. Nick Greisen started in his place and had a game-high 10 tackles. Other inactives included: running back Mike Cloud, quarterback Jesse Palmer, safety Jack Brewer, offensive lineman Marques Sullivan, and defensive tackle Kenderick Allen.

NFC East: The Eagles (9-1) dominated the Redskins (3-7), 28-6. The Cowboys (3-7) were shut down by the Ravens 30-10.

What's Next: The Giants (5-5) are at home against the Eagles. If the Eagles win, incredibly, they'll clinch the division since they would have a five-game lead with five games to play and the tiebreaker compliments of head-to-head wins over the Giants.

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