Eli Manning must do more than his part in Giants’ wild-card race

NFL cameras captured a poignant exchange between Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field after the Giants’ 24-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13.

“Always fun doing these, huh?” Roethlisberger said of the 2004 draftees’ head-to-head meetings.

“Always,” Manning said, before adding, “I hope it’s not the last one, ya know?”

“It shouldn’t be,” Roethlisberger answered.

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The pair of two-time Super Bowl champion quarterbacks parted ways with smiles and pats on the back. But Manning’s words attached the proper perspective to this winter stretch for the Giants:

Manning, their franchise quarterback, turns 36 years old on Jan. 3. He is party to a current four-year playoff drought and has three years remaining on what likely will be the final contract of his NFL career.

He might not get many more chances to play January and February football and put himself in position to win his third Lombardi Trophy.

He has been incredibly durable throughout his career, making 195 consecutive starts entering Sunday night’s visit from the Dallas Cowboys, the most among active players and third-longest all-time among quarterbacks.

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He needed only nine completions against the Cowboys to pass Hall of Famer Warren Moon (3,988) for seventh all-time on the NFL’s all-time completion list.

Manning has rallied the Giants to four postseason game-winning drives when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter, including, of course, the unforgettable 83-yard drive to win Super Bowl XLII that concluded with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.

Unfortunately, those milestones and Manning’s playoff track record in the clutch will mean nothing if Big Blue doesn’t get there. Win or lose against Dallas on Sunday night, the Giants face a difficult task to squeeze at least one win but hopefully two out of Detroit, Philly on the road and Washington on the road to close this schedule.

Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.

Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.

(Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

But Sunday’s results in Week 14 across the NFL stressed just how much tighter this playoff race could get quickly, even though the Giants held the top NFC wild-card coming in.

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The Lions (9-4) inched past the Bears, 20-17, to strengthen their lead in the North, which made it a bigger deal that Minnesota (7-6) — which holds the head-to-head tiebreaker on the Giants — trudged by the Jaguars, 25-16.

Washington (7-5-1) tried to give one away to the Eagles but managed to pull out a 27-22 win at Lincoln Financial Field, adding further intrigue to the Giants’ Week 17 date with their division rival in Washington.

“I think when you get into December and the other teams are fighting for playoff spots, teams are trying to win the division and (you’re trying to) give yourself a chance. It’s a big game (against Dallas). It’s excitement. These are games you look forward to. It’s fun playing meaningful games in December.”

This is what the Giants have to hope for. That the dire situation this December brings the clutch playoff version of Manning out of him to bail out a consistently frustrating and overmatched offense and complement a much-improved defense.

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He entered Sunday’s test against Dallas, the biggest game played at MetLife Stadium in years, with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, including six picks in the Giants’ five games since their Week 8 bye.

Manning is far from the only thing wrong with this offense, and often is making much more out of what Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese have given him than most quarterbacks would.

But he has to clean up the mistakes, the poor decisions that put the Week 13 loss to Pittsburgh out of reach, that gave the Eagles a great chance to win at MetLife in Week 9, that coughed up a game to Washington at home in Week 3.

Manning must do more than his part. One last time, he must be great. He may not get another chance when the stakes are this high.

Tags:
nfl
new york giants
eli manning
ben roethlisberger

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