Eli Answers Critics, Albeit Not Until Late

For more than three quarters Sunday in Chicago, Eli Manning looked like, well, the Eli Manning we've seen of late. The Eli that looked confused and overmatched against Minnesota.

Misfiring on a pass to Jeremy Shockey and hitting Bears LB Brian Urlacher in stride. Under-throwing Plaxico Burress in the end zone and having Bears CB Charles Tillman take it away. Dropping the ball as he was about to start his throwing motion for no apparent reason. Those were just a few of Eli's transgressions.

But then, as if Kevin Gilbride, Tom Coughlin or even Manning himself, flipped a switch, Eli took over. He looked in command, making all the throws the Giants needed him to make. Most importantly he led the Giants to an enormous conference victory in Chicago, rallying his troops from nine points down with less than seven minutes to play and leading Big Blue to a 21-16 victory.

During the Giants' final two drives, Manning completed 7-of-9 passes for 95 yards and 1 TD. His clutch pass to Plaxico Burress set up Reuben Droughns for the game-winning two-yard scoring run with 1:33 to play.

Manning started the penultimate drive with a beauty of a pass to Amani Toomer for an 18-yard gain. He then capped that drive by threading the needle to Toomer again. The original call was that Toomer hadn't prevented the ball from hitting the ground. However, Tom Coughlin's challenge overturned the call and the six points were on the board. And for anyone who wondered why Manning threw the ball so low, apparently they didn't see the linebacker lurking between Manning and Toomer.

The game-winning drive included a 15-yard hookup with Toomer and a 24-yarder to David Tyree. Manning's final pass, which was another laser, cut through the Bears defense right to Burress for a 15-yard gain to the Chicago 2.

Say what you will about how awful Manning's been for seven of the last eight Giants quarters. But in this world of ‘what have you done for me lately,' Eli Manning's answer was a resounding ‘plenty.'

Unnecessary toughness

The Giants defense had to make one final stand at the end of the game – and they have only Tom Coughlin to blame for that. When Rex Grossman connected with Muhsin Muhammad to move the ball inside the New York 30-yard line in the waning seconds, it allowed the Bears three chances to throw the ball into the end zone and possibly win the game.

All of that could have been avoided had Coughlin wisely chosen to bleed the clock and kick the game-winning field goal with only seconds to play. The situation was this: New York, trailing by two points, had a first-and-goal from the Chicago 2-yard line with 1:37 to play. The Bears only had one timeout left. The smart move would have been to take a knee on first down, forcing the Bears to use their final timeout. Then, two more Manning kneel downs, the final one centering the ball in the process, would have moved the clock to well under 30 seconds before Lawrence Tynes could have kicked the winner, which would have amounted to nothing more than an extra point. The Giants could have taken the lead, while leaving Chicago with next to no time on the clock. However, Coughlin opted to run Droughns, who scored on the first play, leaving the Bears and dangerous return man Devin Hester 97 seconds to steal New York's victory.

While Coughlin would never, ever admit it, was he nervous of Tynes' ability to come through in the clutch? We'll likely never know the truth on that front. But what we do know is that Coughlin and his team had to deal with unnecessary adversity in Chicago. The wise move, most definitely, would have been to kill the clock and win the game with mere seconds to play.

Bittersweet

Poor Derrick Ward just can't catch a break. Ward was phenomenal in Chicago, breaking off one great rush after another against a solid Bears run defense. But, of course, Ward, who had missed the last four games with injuries, suffered an ankle injury late in the game. While his career high 154 yards and gaudy 6.4-yard per carry average were one of the primary reasons that Big Blue was able to pull this one out, the attention now turns to whether or not Ward will be ready for Sunday in Philadelphia. Especially with Brandon Jacobs' uncertain status due to his troublesome hamstring, Ward's recovery takes on even more importance.

Breathing room

As much as it seemed that New York had basically already wrapped up a playoff spot regardless of its outcome in Chicago, a closer look shows that was not at all the case. Had Chicago prevailed they would have moved within a game of the Giants while possessing the all-important tiebreaker. Now, Big Blue has all but put the final nail in the defending NFC champion's coffin. The Vikings, who blew out Detroit, would have been in the exact same position, a game back with the tiebreaker edge. The hard-charging Cardinals and fast-fading Lions would have also been just one game back of New York, although Big Blue holds the tiebreaker advantage over both of those clubs.

In no way, shape or form are the 8-4 Giants out of the woods yet. But they sure as heck earned themselves a much larger margin of error with the win in Chicago.


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