Reese Must Create Competition for Eli

In the wake of Eli Manning's four-interception implosion against Minnesota, many media members spent time analyzing Manning's reaction to the poorest performance by a quarterback in Giants history.

He was his usual reserved self after the embarrassing game, so they tried to determine if his lack of emotion meant anything other than that this is just the way he is, at least publicly, no matter how terrible the circumstances. Some emotion might've done his reputation some good, but Manning's calm approach obviously doesn't mean he doesn't care about such a disastrous day. You cannot question Manning's commitment to his job or to winning.

What you can question is Manning's development in his third full season as the Giants' starter, how he hasn't exactly erased the doubts about whether he should be Tom Coughlin's unquestioned quarterback. That skepticism is not based on one atrocious afternoon in November. It is based on Manning's maddening inconsistency since his encouraging, season-opening outing against Dallas on Sept. 9, a four-touchdown night that made America take Peyton's younger brother seriously.

That's why the reactions of Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese to Manning's farcical four quarters against the Vikings are much more important than Manning's response.

Coughlin's initial reaction was to stick with Manning, no matter how difficult Manning made matters on a defense that neutralized the Vikings' vaunted running game. Coughlin considered removing Manning from the game, but only briefly.

"I thought about it at one point," Coughlin said following the 41-17 defeat, "but I didn't see the purpose in that, either. … I wasn't going to do that to him, and I wasn't going to do that to me, and us. I just don't like that."

Making Manning complete the psyche-damaging game might've done him more harm than good, especially after he threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in an unfathomable 42-second span. But Coughlin's point was that Anthony Wright isn't a long-term alternative to Manning, thus there is no reason to play the Giants' second-string quarterback. Maybe he would've gone with Wright if the Giants were up 41-10 in the fourth quarter, but Wright otherwise serves solely as injury insurance for Manning.

Therein lies one of the Giants' biggest problems as Manning makes it painfully obvious that their search for a quality quarterback is far from over.

There is no threat of him being benched, no matter how horrendous he might be in a given game. Or a given month, for that matter.

Not since Kurt Warner was starting ahead of him in 2004 have the Giants made Manning compete for playing time. Jared Lorenzen and Tim Hasselbeck have served the same purpose as Wright since Manning replaced Warner in the starting lineup. Wright has at least started some games, mostly for Baltimore in 2003 and 2005, but none of the three aforementioned backups were ever truly considered competition for Manning.

That must change this offseason.

Even if Coughlin leads the Giants to a third straight playoff appearance and is rightfully rewarded with a real contract extension, Reese has to bring in a quarterback who can compete with Manning in training camp next summer. This won't be an easy task, of course, because there aren't 32 quality quarterbacks in the league, much less 64. But they'll have to take a chance on a veteran some team will inevitably release because it is trying to groom someone else as the face of its franchise.

That happens every offseason, and the winter/spring of 2008 won't be any different.

Coughlin understandably won't want to start over by using another high draft pick on a quarterback, even if he knows he'll be around a few more years. But there are other, perhaps more effective ways to find quarterbacks these days anyway. Of the consensus top 10 quarterbacks in the league today, only two were first overall picks (Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer) and only four were drafted in the first round (Manning, Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger and Donovan McNabb).

Reese and Coughlin cannot worry about how signing another capable quarterback makes Manning feel, either. He has had more than enough time to entrench himself as the unequivocal leader of this offense, and he hasn't done it. He'll never justify the trade for three eventual Chargers Pro Bowlers, but if they're still uncertain about him entering the fifth year of his NFL career, Coughlin and Reese at least have to start exploring alternatives.

And if McNabb might be on his way out of Philadelphia, even after leading to the Eagles to a Super Bowl less than three years ago, why shouldn't Coughlin and Reese start applying pressure on Manning, who hasn't even won a playoff game?

In fact, McNabb might be just the kind of quarterback the Giants need to challenge Manning. He is injury-prone and a little too sensitive for this media market, but if Andy Reid turns toward Kevin Kolb or A.J. Feeley for the 2008 season, McNabb makes perfect sense for the Giants. At 31, he'll have plenty of other suitors if the Eagles release him, and he might ultimately become too expensive for the Giants.

But Chad Pennington could become an option, too. Eric Mangini determined after a season-and-a-half that Pennington can't take the Jets deep into January, and his arm strength obviously isn't ideal. But he has won meaningful football games, doesn't make as many mistakes as Manning and, at the very least, would give the Giants a viable alternative to Manning during games or stretches when Manning fails.

Even if McNabb remains in Philadelphia, Pennington stays with the Jets or they both sign with other teams, the Giants should still at least try to significantly upgrade over Wright and Lorenzen. Manning's disturbing day on Nov. 25 was an extreme example of his flaws, but his inconsistency is indisputable. And his lack of progress in his third full season as their starter should leave them with a questionable quarterback situation at best.

That's why the reactions of Coughlin and Reese to his regression this season are much more important than Manning's response to the poorest performance by a quarterback in Giants history.

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