Cut Eli a little slack

Eli Manning came into the critical Kansas City game leading the NFC in touchdown passes with 21; however, all anybody wanted to talk about was his 15 interceptions. After the game, he had added to both totals with one of each, as New York did enough things right to post a 27-17 victory over the Chiefs before 78,625 jubilant fans at Giants Stadium.

But, when you think about it, despite the interceptions and inconsistency, Manning has also led the Giants to a 10-4 record through the season's first 14 weeks, and with two weeks to go, has them in position to secure the NFC East Division title, a home playoff game, and possibly even a first-round bye.

And, when it comes down to it, those are the only numbers that matter.

When you take into consideration that this is Manning's first full season, and that he's only had 21 starts under his belt, it really is amazing what he's doing. Most sophomore quarterbacks, with the exception of Dan Marino, don't lead their teams to a Super Bowl berth. Not even Eli's older brother, Peyton, was able to do that. Yet, Eli Manning, for all of his learning experience, has the Giants in position to make a run at that lofty goal.

"He's a leader for us," Giants record-setting running back Tiki Barber said. "And everybody thinks that the numbers aren't what they should be, but he keeps us calm in the huddle. If it wasn't for him, it could be anarchy out there. He knows how to lead us. When he makes mistakes, he doesn't let it bother him.

"And, you can't put a premium on that."

Perhaps Carl Banks, the former Pro Bowl linebacker for the Giants and current radio analyst, put it best during the post-game show when he said: "Again, we're going to hear how bad Eli Manning looked at certain times in the game, but when you look at his numbers, they all add up."

Well put, Carl. So, yes, Manning is unquestionably respected by his teammates and peers, alike. It's just the media that seem to forget that this kid has not yet even played 16 games in a row. But, when you think about it, Manning, who won't turn 24 until January, hasn't had a whole lot of help in terms of improving his accuracy.

If you look at the Philadelphia contest several weeks ago, key drops preceded all of Manning's interceptions. What that tells me is he's just too inexperienced to overcome the mistakes around him at times. And perhaps, just perhaps, he tries to do too much, which leads to some of the miscues.

Looking at the Kansas City game, it was the same thing. On the opening drive, Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey dropped a pass that hit him in the numbers. Then, on a third-and-seven from the Kansas City 28-yard line, Manning was sacked by Chiefs defensive end Eric Hicks and fumbled the ball. Still, there were at least two Chiefs in the backfield alongside him on the play.

Looking at the entire first half there were two, maybe three, drops and several other difficult but catch-able balls dropped. With the exception of Plaxico Burress, who did drop a sure touchdown pass in Philadelphia, most of Manning's receivers don't consistently make the tough catch.

On the bright side, Manning has shown a propensity to pick up his play when it counts the most. Starting with his first NFL victory in the season finale against Dallas last year, Manning appears to be a possible master of late-game heroics. Against the Cowboys last season, Manning threw for three touchdowns passes; however, he completed a huge 23-yard pass to Barber to begin the game-winning drive. Shortly afterward, Manning called a gutsy audible that enabled Barber to score the game-winner with just 11 seconds left.

That play has carried over to this year, where Manning pulled off late-game heroics against both the Cowboys and Broncos during the first half of the season. He also helped bring the Giants back against the Minnesota Vikings, before the defense allowed Minnesota a game-winning field goal. And, after tying the game late three times, with apologies to Jay Feely, Manning put his team in position to win the Seattle game and three times they came away with missed field goals.

Then, although it may have gone unnoticed by some, in the tight Chiefs' contest, after KC pulled within 20-17, Manning worked his magic once again. With 4:27 remaining in the game, and the Giants not quite close enough for a field goal, on a tough third-and-four, Manning found himself and his club in a rocky spot. Punt the ball away and perhaps the Chiefs grab the lead for good. The boy prodigy would have none of that. The man with the powerful arm and football pedigree fired a 15-yard bullet to Burress for the crucial first down. Two plays later, Barber found the end zone to cap off New York's hard-fought 27-17 victory.

But, none of it would have been possible without Manning's huge third-down completion to Burress.

"That was big," New York head coach Tom Coughlin sighed afterward. "That was a key play for us to keep the ball. It seemed like a couple of times today, we were in that situation – too long for a field goal. And that particular play between Eli and Plaxico bailed us out."

Manning, afterward, was not touting his play.

"I didn't have a great game," he said, "but obviously I made enough plays to win. I expect myself to play better than what I did today. I'm not playing awful, but I'm not playing up to my expectations."

Still, though, that wasn't enough for some of the media, and now some of the fans that have jumped on that bandwagon. Kind of like the ones that thought Phil Simms' numbers weren't what they should be during the championship season of 1986. No joke. There were some people who felt Simms should have been benched during a rough offensive stretch, even though they were winning ballgames. Sure sounds funny now.

"You can't win championship games with a quarterback who's inaccurate," blared Ozzie from Hicksville, somehow ignoring the fact that Manning had just won his 10th game in 14 chances.

"Do you ever think about taking Eli out and putting someone else in," another fair-weathered fan pondered on the radio, presumably talking about Tim Hasselbeck.

Still, Amani Toomer, who has the second-most tenure on the team after Michael Strahan, knows where his bread was buttered.

"(Eli) definitely takes a lot of crap, but being a quarterback for the New York Giants, it comes with the territory," Toomer said. "This is a tough town to play in. They tried to run Phil Simms out of town!

"But, you can't argue that the guy in only his second year has gone 10-4. You can throw the other stats out the window. That's what it all comes down to."

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