Eli Manning's play can be questioned, but his durability cannot

Eli Manning throws a pass during a game Eli Manning throws a pass during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. (Nov. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Tom Rock Tom Rock

Rock covers the New York Giants. Previously covered college sports and outdoors. ...

Eli Manning may not be playing well in the last few weeks. But he is playing, which is more than can be said for a lot of NFL quarterbacks of late.

A rash of injuries -- some as routine as concussions, others as squeamish as the threat of a punctured aorta -- have caused many teams in recent weeks to turn to their backup quarterbacks. Monday night's game between two of the top teams in the NFC featured a pair of backup quarterbacks. The Steelers seem to be ready to move on to their third option at the position in a three-week span.

Manning, though, has continued to take nearly every snap of every game of every season for the last eight years. Wednesday, in fact, is the anniversary of his first NFL start, a non-descript 14-10 loss at home to the Falcons. On Sunday, he'll make his 130th consecutive regular-season start since then.

"He's a machine, man," Hakeem Nicks said Tuesday. "You rarely ever see Eli lay on the ground. He gets up after he takes hits. Eli is tough. He's one of the toughest quarterbacks."

Toughness has helped Manning play through some of the biggest threats to his streak: the shoulder injury he suffered in the 2007 opener against the Cowboys and the foot injury that nagged at him in 2009.

Manning has been able to avoide injuries that even the toughest players can't play through, such as concussions (which have a protocol established by the league before a player can be cleared to play).

"It's impressive," guard Chris Snee said of Manning's streak. "Not many guys do that, regardless of position. But a position like quarterback, where you're taking a lot of shots, it just speaks to how tough he is."

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Snee has missed one game in his career. "He's that much tougher than I am," Snee said, holding his finger and thumb millimeters apart.

Manning's streak is the longest active for quarterbacks and the third-longest in NFL history. When Eagles rookie Nick Foles and 49ers backup Colin Kaepernick made their first starts last week, they became the 140th and 141st different starting quarterback for the other 31 NFL teams since Manning's streak began. That's more than 4.5 quarterbacks per team over the last eight years. Foles was the 24th different starter in the division since Manning took over.

Snee and Nicks spoke at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, where they helped unload 1,500 turkeys donated by Stop & Shop. When they sit down for their own dinner Thursday, among the blessings in their football careers that they'll undoubtedly give thanks for is never having to worry about playing a game with a backup quarterback.

"It definitely means a lot to us," Nicks said. "That's very nice not to have to worry about that."

Snee recalled a preseason game two years ago against the Steelers when Manning sat out. "He was lost," Snee said of having to watch the game and sit in an auxiliary locker room to create space for those who were actually participating in the game. "He kept asking me, 'What do I do?' "

Maybe that's how the Giants would react if they ever had to play without Manning. They have a capable backup in David Carr, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, but the thought of playing without Manning doesn't cross their minds. "I don't even think about that," said Nicks, who knows the physical toll of a football season having missed three games this season and six others in his career.

"It's our job to keep him in there," Snee said of the offensive line that protects Manning and his streak. "Hopefully, that's never an issue and it's not something we talk about."

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