SAN DIEGO - If there comes a time when the Giants can hail Eli Manning as their franchise quarterback, they might point to the night of September 25, 2005 as the game that he convinced them for sure.

 History will determine if the way Manning performed in the face of tremendous personal pressure was truly a significant moment.  He stared down a wildly hostile crowd to keep the Giants in a game with the Chargers for as long as he could.  Eli Manning was the least of the Giants problems in a 45-23 loss at Qualcomm Stadium that featured Manning growing on the job while his teammates on defense shrunk in theirs.

 Thrust into an unsavory situation he created, Manning played in the city that he spurned, facing the team he swore not to play for after the Chargers made him the first pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.  The second-year quarterback faced deafening jeers for every move he made and, rather than wilt under the extreme pressure, Manning rose to the occasion with an impressive performance.

 "I don't think it was worse than I expected,'' Manning said afterward.  "I got about what I expected.''

 If the Giants defense had risen to the level displayed by Manning, the Giants would have retained their unblemished record.  Instead, Manning's career-best game became the first Giants loss of the season.  The Chargers scored at will and gained their first victory, much to the delight of a raucous crowd intent on making life miserable for Manning.

 "The fan reaction didn't bother me,'' Manning said.  "It wasn't hard to deal with.''

 Manning heard it early and often and never for a moment was shaken, giving the Giants hope that he can develop into the marquee player they believe he'll become.  He completed 24 of 41 passes for a career-high 352 yards and fired touchdown passes to Plaxico Burress and David Tyree.  He did not throw an interception and compiled a quarterback rating of 102.9.

 "He played well enough for us to win,'' coach Tom Coughlin said.  "I thought he was extremely poised.  He knew exactly what he was coming into.  He wasn't rattled.''

 He was not at all supported by a shabby defensive effort, as the Chargers raced to a 21-3 lead, watched the Giants pull within 21-20 and then continued to pour it on.  The Giants could not stop the run or lay a glove on Drew Brees (19 of 22, 191 in a near-perfect outing) or cover the pass, a deadly trifecta of ineptitude that doomed them.  LaDainian Tomlinson was the chief architect with two rushing touchdowns and one scoring pass, plus 192 rushing yards on only 21 carries for a ghastly 9.1-yard average.

 The Giants allowed 485 total yards.

 "I was disappointed in everything defensively,'' Coughlin said.  "We didn't stop anything.''

 At the outset, the hostility was palpable.  A few fans saw fit to wear powder blue Chargers T-shirts that read "[Bleep] Eli" and others wore shirts that in a slightly different way expressed a similar sentiment:  "Eli [bleeps].''   

 A banner in the stands read "Daddy's Little Girl ... Eli.''  Another:  "Eli Start Praying Now.''  And another:  "Eli = Overrated.  Archie = Bust.  Peyton = Adopted.''  And "She-li Must Pay.''  And "Eli, San Diego Picks Winners, Not Whiners.''

 It was all Eli, all the time.

 "I saw my name on a few things,'' Manning said.  "I'm sure they made a good profit on T-shirts and whatnot.''

 The crowd noise was deafening at the start, playoff-volume with some extra venom.  Manning, though, appeared unfazed.  His first pass was a 32-yard catch-and-run to Jeremy Shockey (6-101) and as the noise cascaded down, Manning kept cool.  He completed 4 of 5 passes for 55 yards to advance the Giants to the San Diego 5-yard line.  Tiki Barber was stuffed for no gain on second-and-1 and Brandon Jacobs was stopped cold on third down.   

 Faced with a fourth-and-inches, Coughlin surprisingly went ultra-conservative and called for the field goal unit.  Jay Feely's 22-yarder made it 3-0 but the Giants should have come away with more.   

 They needed more.  Plenty more.  Brees completed his first eight passes, Tomlinson ran and caught with abandon and the Giants were powerless to stop them.  A 65-play drive was capped by Tomlinson's 1-yard TD run and a crisp 85-yard drive ended when linebacker Reggie Torbor got caught in a mismatch and flailed away as receiver Keenan McCardell hauled in a 15-yard scoring pass.   

 It was 21-3 after Tomlinson's second touchdown run but Manning brought the Giants back, rising to the challenge with the most impressive showing of his young career.  He had 206 passing yards by halftime, bettering his career high for a game of 201 yards.  He also completed 14 of 22 passes along with two touchdowns for a sterling rating of 124.4.

 The comeback was sparked by Manning's 44-yard toss to Tim Carter, setting up a 5-yard scoring lob to Burress.  The Giants finally managed to make a play on defense when linebackers Nick Greisen and Carlos Emmons punished Tomlinson after a short completion, causing a fumble that Osi Umenyiora recovered on the San Diego 34-yard line.  A leaping catch by Jeremy Shockey of a 30-yard Manning bullet was followed by Manning's 4-yard TD strike to Tyree.  A last-minute drive, fueled by Tiki Barber's 27-yard run, led to Feely's 40-yard field goal as the Giants trimmed the deficit to 21-20 at the half.

 The Chargers needed all of four plays into the third quarter to chew off 70 yards, scoring when Tomlinson on a gadget play threw a halfback pass to Keenan McCardell.  A rout ensued, despite Manning's efforts.

 "I wanted to win the game,'' Manning said.  "That's what I play for.  I don't play for stats or numbers.  I play for wins.''

 He played well enough to get it but was betrayed by his defense.   

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