Eli Manning's outlook nothing but optimistic
It was as if Sunday afternoon had never happened.
There was Eli Manning at his locker, looking refreshed and carefree in a fleece sweater, jeans and sneakers, talking about how optimistic he is about what lies ahead for the Giants.
No matter that the quarterback was less than 24 hours removed from one of the worst performances of his career and the only time he'd ever suffered a regular-season shutout. The Falcons are good, but if the Giants were going to lose, you'd have thought it might have been by a point or two, not 34-0, the first regular-season shutout since Dan Reeves' last season as coach in 1996.
Here they are, in another second-half slump that threatens their playoff chances, and Manning sounded as confident as if he were one game away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
"Your confidence is high because of the coaches we have, the character of the players we have, the talent of the players we have and our preparation will be good," he said. "We're going to have a chance to go out there and perform well."
No matter that the Giants have lost four of their last six after a 6-2 start and that they were embarrassed by the Falcons in what was close to a must-win situation. And so what that his 38.9 rating was his worst in nearly five years. When it comes to putting bad losses behind him, Manning is at an elite level.
He hopes that again will be the case as the Giants attempt to extricate themselves from their latest predicament. Win these next two and they're in the tournament. Lose either of them, and they could miss out on a chance to defend their Super Bowl championship.
Manning's play no doubt will go a long way toward determining their fate. In fact, he might be the determining factor. Another clunker like the one in Atlanta, where his two first-half interceptions gave the Falcons the early momentum, and there will be no shot at a repeat. But if he can do what he's done so often in the past and rally his team, the Giants will play into January.
Manning is convinced good things are about to happen.
"I think we'll react great," he said. "If you say at the beginning of the season that you have two games left and you have to win both to be in the playoffs, I think you take it. This is an opportunity you ask for. These are circumstances you want to be in. We like our chances. It's right in front of us."
Manning has been here before. Last year, the Giants lost to the Redskins in their 14th game of the season, dropping them to 7-7. They needed to win both remaining games to get into the playoffs, and that's exactly what they did. They beat the Jets and the Cowboys to win the NFC East title, then rolled to four straight postseason wins to capture their second Super Bowl championship in the last five seasons.
But they've also seen this scenario prove to be their downfall. In 2010, they blew a 31-10 fourth-quarter lead over the Eagles in Game 14 and lost the following week in Green Bay. They won their final game against the Redskins, but they already had been eliminated from playoff contention.
Beginning in 2006, the Giants are 1-6 in their 14th game. Yet they've made the playoffs in four of the last six seasons.
Backs to the wall -- again. Can Manning summon the wherewithal to lead one more late-season run?
His coach thinks he can. Asked what makes Manning so potentially dangerous in these situations, Tom Coughlin replied, "Competitive nature. Competitive greatness. Focus. The steely-eyed focus of his."
A win over Baltimore, a win over Philadelphia and the Giants are back in the tournament.
A loss to either team, and their hopes for a Super Bowl repeat could be over.
Time for Manning to step up.