Knockout: Student tops teacher in QB fight

One of the more intriguing stories surrounding the New York Giants' 42-19 opening-day victory over the Arizona Cardinals was the tale of the tape between the two starting quarterbacks. Kurt Warner was a two-time NFL MVP, and coincidentally the 2004 starting QB for Big Blue. However, it was rookie Eli Manning, the top pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, who finished the season as starter.

Manning had already publicly credited Warner with his development before the two shared a few laughs in the bowels of the stadium several hours before Kickoff 2005. It's safe to say that there is nothing but mutual respect between these two prizefighters. Yet mutual respect often makes for great competition.

Not coincidentally the matchup between the two turned into one of the more entertaining street brawls between teacher and student since Tommy Gunn challenged Rocky Balboa to a fistfight in the alleyway.

"For a half, we played well," Warner said. "We had control of the football game and then we gave it away in the second half. Those are the ones that are frustrating. It's that we couldn't get back on track. We gave them a number of big plays that allowed them to get some easy points. And, against a good football team on the road, you can't do that."

There was plenty to cheer about on New York's opening possession. Manning's first offensive play of the game was an eight-yard completion to his new main target Plaxico Burress. Several plays later, Manning hooked up with Jeremy Shockey for nine more. Manning's passing helped open up the running lanes, as the Giants looked like a well-balanced offensive unit. The Mississippi product culminated the 10-play, 81-yard drive with a picture-perfect 20-yard TD pass to Shockey that knocked the Cardinals to the canvas and gave New York an early 7-0 advantage.

Warner would eventually answer back with a mammoth 13-play, 80-yard journey that elapsed nearly seven minutes off the clock, spanning both the first and second quarters, resulting in a 24-yard Neil Rackers field goal, closing the gap to 7-3. On the drive, Warner looked the part of former Super Bowl MVP, completing all six of his passes for 73 of the aforementioned 80 yards.

On the ensuing offensive possession for the Giants, Manning threw what looked like a completion to wideout David Tyree, who deflected the ball right into the waiting hands of Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby, who returned it 18 yards for the score that helped Team Warner take a 10-7 lead.

Just two possessions later, Warner was at it again completing five more passes to set up a 42-yard Rackers field goal, expanding his team's lead to 13-7 and opening a big gash on the Giants' psyches'. Soon Manning was intercepted by Dansby again, re-opening the cut.

At the half, Warner was easily winning the battle, having completed 14-of-20 for 152 yards, while Manning was mired in a 5-for-15 funk with one TD and two interceptions.

"No, the first half wasn't very good," New York head coach Tom Coughlin said. "It wasn't pretty. We basically took the ball and went down the field and stuck it in the end zone and didn't make another play until the two interceptions – tipped ball interceptions, which is really frustrating."

But like any good prizefighter, Manning displayed heart. He opened the second half with a 44-yard pass to Burress, which set up a Brandon Jacobs TD, and before you knew it, the Giants had jumped ahead on points, 14-13.

"I just threw it up there with a chance for (Plaxico) to catch it, and he did," Manning said. "It got us going there in the second half, and we took the lead.

"The whole momentum of the game just switched for us there."

After a 21-yard TD run by Tiki Barber enlarged the lead to 21-13, Warner went back to his bag of magic tricks, showing tremendous poise with an improvisational shovel pass to running back J.J. Arrington to avoid a sack. He then burned the blitzing Giants' with a 30-yard strike to Larry Fitzgerald to the New York one-yard-line. Three plays later, a one-yard Warner to Fitzgerald TD flip closed the gap to 21-19, and it looked like teacher vs. student would go the distance.

But, early in the fourth quarter, after Team Manning had increased its lead to 28-19, the student made the teacher proud and frustrated with one hard blow. A scrambling Manning fired a 13-yard TD strike to Burress, while eluding several Cardinals' tacklers to TKO Warner's crew at 35-19. Manning's pass displayed pinpoint accuracy, in finding Burress, who was hugging the sideline.

To a certain degree, Manning, who finished the game with decent numbers – 10-of-23 for 172 yards with two TDs and the two first-half picks – owed some of that success to Warner, his mentor.

"With the situation the way it was (last year), different people could have acted in different ways," Manning said of Warner's tutorial in 2004. "But, he stayed very professional, stuck behind me and helped me when I was struggling."

And that tutorial made for some interesting drama when the mentor took on his apprentice in the opening-day fistfight.

"I talked to (Kurt) before the game when I was walking up into the stadium," Manning said. "I saw he just got off the bus. We just talked for a little bit. Then, I talked to him after the game, and just wished him well on the future."

Great competition also happens to make for mutual respect.


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