Manning struggles mightily in playoff debut

No matter how you slice it, Eli Manning was pretty bad against the Panthers. No he certainly didn't get any help from his running game, offensive game plan or defense. But completing only 10 passes for 113 yards with turnovers on four consecutive second-half possessions – three interceptions and a fumble – is definitely nothing Manning wants to keep in the front of his memory.

But despite enduring a rough afternoon against Carolina, Manning was able to look at the bright side a day later. The second-year quarterback did not have a postseason debut that he will recall fondly.

But Manning made tremendous strides during the season, when he threw for 3,762 yards and 24 touchdowns, and led the Giants to the kind of success very few predicted for them last summer.

"This was my first (full) season as a starting quarterback, and we won 11 games," Manning said. "That's pretty good, and I think you have to remember that. We had a good season. We won the division and we did some good things with a young quarterback. That's something to be proud of.

"Obviously, we didn't play well and we ended on a bad note. But we definitely improved from the year before. We didn't have many expectations from people to do as well as we did. We had a good season. We have a lot of room for improvement, and I think we'll get better."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said despite the postseason struggles, Manning's arrow is definitely still pointing straight up.

"You have to remember where he is coming from," Coughlin said. "This is a young kid that, sure, he played some at the end of last season, but this is his first 16-game, 17-game stretch, if you will. And even though there were some inconsistencies, which we all know have to level off, the quality of the experience, what he has gone through, what he has seen, the opportunity to work with his teammates, the game management part of it, which he does so very well, these things are all going to be great assets for our franchise down the road."

Veteran running back Tiki Barber said Manning could only gain from the negative experience.

"Absolutely," he said. "Just like his struggles last year turned him into a better player this year. We expect some of the things that we went through this year will make him a better player next year. That's the process and the ascension of quarterbacks in this league. It's not just something you can step in and do. It's not just athletic ability, like a receiver or running back, for that matter. It's a lot of learning and a lot of direction and something he has already, leadership ability."

Manning agreed that gaining postseason experience – good, bad or otherwise – was invaluable for him.

"I think so," he said. "I think every game and every experience I can go through is helpful. Just having this season to look back on and watch all the film and to learn from it will definitely be helpful going into the offseason. Having just played in a playoff game and going through that and feeling what we're feeling now will be helpful going into next year."

Manning also said the presence of family and friends helped to lessen the blow.

"I had my parents in town and had some friends in town, which made it a little easier to have people close to me," Manning said. "They don't bring up the game. It made it somewhat easier to take in, but it still – it just comes up. You think about it. I thought we were going to win that game. Going into it, I felt good about it. I thought we were the better team and we should have gone out there and played better. We had opportunities and we didn't do it."

Believe it or not, Coughlin wants Manning to begin his offseason by taking it easy.

"First of all he has to rest," Coughlin said. "Everybody at this point in time needs to take the time necessary to get their body back. A young, healthy body if you will. And then he starts back by looking, not only at the cutups but looking at the game tapes and looking at them with the evaluation sheet in front of him so that he knows what was good, what was bad, talking about the things that he saw that he didn't like or didn't do the right thing with."

Coughlin told his young QB that the club's third-down struggles – one of the countless problems that did them in against the Panthers – must be corrected.

"As I mentioned to him, it is really, really important that the third-down area becomes something that he is very, very good and comfortable with, as well as the green area," Coughlin said. "But that is always a challenge in this league and that is something where I think you will see in the future that he will become very good at."

Asked if there was anything physically Manning needed to improve on, Coughlin just wants his QB to continue to get stronger.

"Strength is always the key," he said. "Last offseason he had his body weight up to 228, 226, right in there. And I think at the end of the regular season he was probably 222. So he will benefit from, obviously, another strong offseason program. He likes to lift and he does good with it. By the way, he comes in on his day off and he lifts."

In conclusion, Manning was asked to assess his second season as a whole.

"I had some good games and had some bad games," he answered. "(I'm) still learning and still not anywhere near where I need to be. (There is) a lot of room for improvement. So, I have a lot of work to do. It's going to take a lot of studying in the offseason with just more time to put our plays in. So, we had a good season. From an offensive standpoint, we did some good things. We scored points and we can't look back at that and forget about that. We were up on the rise and we made improvements from the season before. But, we still are not playing at a high enough level. So, we're just going to have to go back to work when we come back and improve on things, figure out how to improve my performance, how I can play better, get more completions, make better decisions, and be more consistent. I look forward to just coming back and getting better."

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