Eye on Eli

Playing NFL quarterback is perhaps the toughest position in professional sports. Despite that, it's very easy for fans and media to put too much into one game – whether good or bad. Each week, a new challenge and a new defense is across the line of scrimmage and, for these Giants, a new injury situation that Eli Manning's offense is forced to deal with as well.

First it was the loss of explosive second-round pick Sinorice Moss, who has basically done nothing all season long. Then it was Amani Toomer, then left tackle Luke Petitgout. Splash in the occasional back spasms that have slowed Plaxico Burress at times and you have an offense that certainly hasn't always had all its horses ready to go. Perhaps that's why no one around the Giants organization is all that bent out of shape by Manning's recent sub-par play.

After the first quarter of the season, it looked like Manning was headed to the Pro Bowl. However, in New York's next five games, Manning didn't play nearly as well as he had early on.

During the season's first four contests, Manning completed 67.1 percent of his passes and threw for 1,149 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Since then heading into the Jacksonville game, Manning had completed 51.7 percent of his passes and thrown for 823 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions.

His worst showing? New York's catastrophic loss to Chicago on Nov. 12 when Manning completed only 14-of-32 passes for 121 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 28.3 that was his lowest in almost a year.

After the game, coach Tom Coughlin and Manning were in agreement regarding Manning's performance.

"Obviously it was not a good game for him – he didn't play well," Coughlin said.

"I didn't play well at all," Manning said. "There were enough plays where I could have made better decisions and better plays that could have affected the game somewhat."

Of course it doesn't take much to envision that Manning is about to embark on another poor season-ending performance. Last season, he was not as sharp in the season's final month as he was earlier. In five December games, Manning completed 53.5 percent of his passes, averaged 219.6 passing yards a game and threw four touchdown passes and seven interceptions. In the NFC Wild Card Game against Carolina, Manning completed 10-of-18 passes, but threw three interceptions.

Manning was asked if he's worried about enduring another late-season decline.

"I'm not concerned," Manning said. "In football you're going to make mistakes and things happen. It's just a matter of trying to find ways to be consistent and find the open guy. I just have to play smarter football. There are not a whole lot of bad plays. When you need to make plays and you need to convert third downs just find a way to do it."

Burress agreed that he's not about to hit the panic button.

"We just have to get him in position where he feels comfortable so that he can deliver the ball to his receivers," Burress said. "I wouldn't say (he's struggling). I think it's a combination of everything. We all need to rally around and support him."

Burress said it's only a matter of time until Manning gets back in a groove.

"I know that he really wants to go out and play well," he said. "He's going to bounce back. He's not worried about what happened last year. I have confidence that he's going to go out and play well."

A look at Manning's entire body of work during his first 32 career starts, which amounts to two full seasons, shows him faring very well.

With an 18-14 mark, he's equaled the starts of Brett Favre and Jake Delhomme and is two games better than his older brother, Peyton, who split his first 32 starts. Among the other recent prominent quarterbacks, only Michael Vick (21-10-1), Tom Brady (21-11) and Donovan McNabb (19-13) had better career beginnings.

He's also fared very well compared to his Giants counterparts. Just Kerry Collins, who got off to a 19-13 start in Carolina, was better, while Manning ranked much higher than Phil Simms, who started off 14-18.

After similar 6-3 starts for Big Blue, it's easy to see a lot of 2005 in these current Giants. However, Manning strongly disagrees.

"It doesn't feel like last year," he said. "It's a new season. We've been playing good football for a while. We won five straight games and we lost one. Now everybody seems like the season is over, or everything has turned around. In six weeks we've lost one game. That's not too bad. That's finding ways to win games. We just have to get back to playing football, find a way to make plays when we need to and find a way to get into the fourth quarter and win the game there. We're not in a bad situation. We're in a good situation. We have to win some games now.

"You win five games in a row, you're on a high, everything seems to be going perfect. All of a sudden you play a disappointing game against a good team and it's a downer. We've got to bounce back from this."

The unflappable Manning never gets too high after a win and never gets too low after a loss. That's why he and his mates are certain that his positive mental state will remain unchanged. It's going to take a lot more than one bad game against the league's best defense to slow Manning down – at least that's what the Giants are hoping.

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