Manning heads into offseason on a high

Eli Manning sure did look a lot like his big brother, Peyton, at the end of New York's come-from-behind season-ending victory over the Cowboys. The play called in the huddle was a pass, yet Manning noticed something in the Dallas defense that had him walking up and down the line of scrimmage, yelling and motioning to his mates the new play.

Obviously what Manning saw was correct. He handed the ball to Tiki Barber, who took it three yards up the middle for the game-winning score with a mere 11 seconds to play. Out of timeouts, Manning's audible was even gutsier, as there was no certainty the Giants, down by three points, would have been able to spike the ball to stop the clock before an overtime-forcing field goal attempt.

"That was one of those audible situations where we look for the pass and then if the pass isn't there, then we run the ball," Tom Coughlin said. "Eli did a good job. It was hard to tell how many guys were down in the box and he saw it and went ahead and snapped the ball and with 16 seconds, there wasn't any margin for error but we had to play for the win."

Coughlin was pleased with Manning's ability to recognize and adjust.

"It was a package play where he had it built in, but he recognized it and it wasn't easy to see," he said. "They had done that all (game) long where they either weren't coming down or then they came down, or they were down and then they backed out, which he has obviously progressed greatly with that aspect of it. He did the kinds of things he had to do to win."

As usual, Manning took his play in stride.

"The safeties were back there in a ‘quarters' technique, we had a pass play called and we said if they're not blitzing or if they are playing coverage to check to the run," he explained. "We did the run, which is a little gutsy because if you don't get it, you have to get up to the line real quick and try to spike it. The offensive line did a great job of blocking and Tiki did a great job of getting in."

It all added up to Manning's first NFL win after he struggled through six consecutive losses.

"It was just good to get that first win and especially end the season on a win," said Manning, who threw for three TDs. "Obviously things hadn't been going the way we had wanted them to, we had some rough times, but to end the season with a win, especially the way we did with a two-minute drive at the end, will hopefully give us some motivation going into the offseason."

For his efforts, Manning was voted the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week for the second time in three weeks. Manning completed 18-of-27 passes for 144 yards for a passer rating of 101.5 in the Giants' victory over the Cowboys. He threw touchdown passes of two, three and 15 yards. Manning was also selected the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week for his performance against Pittsburgh in Week 15.

The difference in Manning's comfort level from his first start to his seventh was easily noticeable.

"I feel more comfortable right now," he said. "I'm making better decisions, still making some mistakes, but I'm seeing things, I have a feel for our offense and when to check and make certain calls. I feel more confident out there. I'm not faking as much; I'm seeing things and back to playing football. It was good to get in this season and get some of the kinks out, some of the rough times. I think I got better each game and now it's just a matter of continuing to learn and continue to get better."

After the season, owner Wellington Mara admitted being excited about Manning's potential.

"I think he improved far more quickly and a lot further than I expected him to in his first year," Mara stated.

Barber was also impressed with Manning's progress.

"His development over the last three weeks has been phenomenal," he said. "Against the Steelers, we were in a situation where we probably should have won, Cincinnati, the same way. If we had won those, we would have probably been talking about the playoffs. You play that ‘what if' game, but I think we give a lot of credit to Eli because he developed quickly. I think the game slowed down for him and he was able to make some decisions and be a leader and a general out there for us.

"He gained confidence in himself and he believed in himself. He was not afraid to make throws and not afraid to take risks, but they were always calculated. He always seemed to be making the right decisions and that was good to see him develop that way."

Coughlin also noticed some of Manning's leadership abilities coming to the forefront.

"I think the first thing that has to happen with a young guy, which is really not a bad role for a lot of people to be honest with you, is play well…do your talking with your play and that helps an awful lot," Coughlin said. "When a guy gets himself into a position where he's playing at a very high level, those around him really have to play at a very high level as well and that's what everyone really should shoot for. And in the position of the quarterback, particularly a young quarterback, this is a big hurdle for him because once at that level, I think his actions will speak very loudly."

Manning's top offensive lineman was pleased with the rookie's quick decision-making and release.

"The sacks went down when Eli came in I think because he had more of a sense to get rid of the ball," Luke Petitgout said. "You can't hold the ball forever; you can't do that. I think it was good putting Eli in there, because he is our guy and he needed to get some experience."

Finally, Manning said he was very thankful for the role Kurt Warner played in his development.

"I appreciate Kurt for everything he's done this season," he said. "The way he's dealt with me, the way he's dealt with the team and everything with the media. He's been first-class and when I first came here I had never met Kurt and I heard great things about him and he obviously held up to his name and the characteristics that people talk about. He's a great person and he's made this very easy on me with me dealing with everything and being very supportive and it's definitely been a benefit having Kurt here for my success."

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