Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Report Cards

The votes are in and counted, and it would appear that Giants' quarterback Eli Manning is the real deal after all. He maintained his week-old ascension to that mythical next level on Sunday when he picked apart the St. Louis Rams with the precision of a surgeon and the ruthlessness of a berserk scalpel.

Manning completed 19-of-35 passes for 296 yards, four touchdowns and for the second week in a row, spearheaded an aerial offense that more than made up for defensive shortcomings.

Through four games now, the NFL's overall first draft pick a year ago, who has started only 11 games in his NFL career, has completed 66-of-103 passes for nine touchdowns. He has been intercepted only twice. His quick release and perhaps quicker ability to read the play as it is developing has allowed him to get sacked only six times.

"I feel a lot more comfortable this year," he said, and in the saying made defensive coordinators around the league feel less and less comfortable. "I think I have reached a point of understanding more than I did last season. I have a better feel for passing plays, running plays and when we are in a bad situation and when a play is not going to work. Sometimes, you just have to leave it on and give it a shot."

Manning's four TD passes on Sunday matched the number recorded by his older brother, Peyton. "I don't feel any competition with Peyton," he said. "We root for each other. If he does well, I am proud of him. We talk about once a week, maybe twice, but we don't usually talk about football."

Head coach Tom Coughlin, who was entrusted with the care and feeding of this rookie last year after the Giants engineered the trade with San Diego, has tried to bring him along slowly, but the pupil is breaking out of his protective wrapping.

"I thought Eli had an outstanding game," said Coughlin, to whom the word "outstanding" is foreign and almost never to be used. "He is progressing faster than we could have expected."

Yeah, go tell that to the defensive coordinators around the league; who thought they had enough trouble with Tiki Barber.


--C Shaun O'Hara was still trying to calm down after the game. "I'll tell you what, this was a great day for Giants' football," he said after the 44-24 blowout. "We'll take this kind of performance all year. The way Eli is playing allows our defense to be aggressive. He is just amazing."

--DE Osi Umenyiora suffered a leg injury, the nature of which was undisclosed, but sources indicate it wasn't overly serious and, in light of the Giants' bye week coming up, he probably won't miss any playing time.

--RB Tiki Barber gained 128 yards on 24 carries, bringing his season total after four games to 333 yards on 74 carries. "I just think this is the best offense I've been around in a long time," he said. "We are setting up an unusual balance here. Usually the run sets up the pass, but now it seems that the pass is setting up the run. Either way, it's fine with me."

--WR Amani Toomer caught a fourth-and-one pass from Manning for a 1-yard TD, and it was his first scoring grab since December of 2003. Last year he and former Giant wideout Ike Hilliard became the only pair of starters in the NFL to go through the entire season without catching a touchdown pass. "It felt good," he said, "but I'm not about touchdowns. I'm about winning, and I like the looks of this offense with Eli at quarterback."

--Second year LB Reggie Torbor recorded his first NFL interception, nabbing a Marc Bulger pass late in the fourth quarter and returning it 37 yards. "Yeah, it felt good," he said, "but we won, and that felt better. Last week (after the 45-23 loss to San Diego), a lot of people wanted to push the panic button, but we knew it was just one game. You have to have a short memory with the good and the bad."



PASSING OFFENSE: A -- For the second week in a row, Eli Manning showed that he has advanced faster than anyone thought he would. Starting just his 11th game, he seemed poised and in control. He completed 19-of-35 passes for 296 yards, which weren't extraordinary numbers, but added four TD tosses. Two of them went to his favorite receiver, WR Plaxico Burress, who caught 10 passes for 204 yards. The O-line blocked well and limited the Rams' defense to one harmless sack. Manning spread the rest of his completions around to TE Jeremy Shockey (four for 57, one TD), WR Amani Toomer (three for 20, one TD) and RB Tiki Barber (2 for 15).

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- RB Tiki Barber had his first plus-100-yard game of the season, carrying 24 times for 128 yards and a brilliant 16-yard TD jaunt in which he broke three tackles along the way. Once again, the line blocked well for him, especially RG Chris Snee, RT Kareem McKenzie and LT Luke Petitgout. So improved is the O-line blocking that it has enabled offensive coordinator John Hufnagel to free up TE Jeremy Shockey for more pass routes and fewer stay-at-home blocking assignments. One mild criticism is that Coughlin allowed Barber to stay in the game long af

ter it was decided. PASS DEFENSE: C -- Well, there wasn't much. Rams' QB Marc Bulger completed 40-of-62 passes for 442 yards, and the 62 attempts represented an all-time high by any QB vs. the Giants. There were some extenuating circumstances, however -- starting RCB Will Peterson (back) and SLB Carlos Emmons (knee) were out. In fact, Peterson, who has a stress fracture of the transverse process (a horizontal bone at the lower end of the spinal column), may miss the remainder of the season. Emmons is week-to-week. The Giants managed only one sack and allowed Bulger to convert half of his 14 third-down opportunities.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Once again, with the glaring exception of last week in San Diego, the Giants limited star running backs to paltry yardage. "That is our goal," said DE Michael Strahan. "We want to shut down the running game first. Then we make the offense one-dimensional." St. Louis star Steven Jackson carried 10 times for 17 yards and the entire Rams' offense managed just 42 yards rushing. Indicative of the run-stopping goal, WLB Nick Greisen had nine tackles and MLB Antonio Pierce seven (as well as an interception and four passes defensed).

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- The Giants got three kickoff returns from Willie Ponder for 65 yards and just one punt return from Chad Morton for 11. So dominant was their offense that Jeff Feagles had to punt only twice all game. The coverage teams limited the Rams to one punt return for five yards and six kickoff returns for 146, or 24.3 per try. The Giants registered eight special teams tackles -- including two by K Jay Feely, who continued his streak of not missing anything this season. He now has made eight-of-eight FG tries and 16-of-16 PAT attempts.

COACHING: B -- Head coach Tom Coughlin had the Giants well-prepared and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis patched up the areas left questionable by the loss of RCB Will Peterson and SLB Carlos Emmons for the game. He'll have tougher work to do if, as is suspected, Peterson is gone for the season. Offensive coordinator John Hufnagel has the passing game running at full speed and QBs coach Kevin Gilbride has been doing more and more things with his prize pupil, Eli Manning.

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