GREEN BAY, Wis. — Eli Manning turned 36 last week. He knows the biological clock is ticking on his chance to secure a third Super Bowl ring.
But after losing a playoff game for the first time in eight years, the Giants quarterback put on a brave face Sunday as he looked toward a narrowing football future.
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After a 38-13 wild-card loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, when Manning was asked if he fears time is running out, he said, “Well, no, I mean, I plan on being back here next year. So we’ll give it a shot then and take advantage of each opportunity that we get.”
Much was written and said before the game about the difference between “regular-season Eli” and “playoff Eli,” and in the end, Manning was more the former than the latter. He finished a pedestrian 23-for-44 for 299 yards, one touchdown and one interception — in the final minute — for a passer rating of 72.1.
But he hardly was the primary culprit in another desultory offensive effort. He was not nearly as good as the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, but he was undermined by key drops and little help from his running game.
The tone was set on the Giants’ first two drives. The first ended with a punt after Odell Beckham Jr. dropped an easy third-down pass. The second ended with a field goal after Beckham and Sterling Shepard failed to grab catchable balls in the end zone.
Beckham, Manning’s most dangerous weapon, was targeted 11 times and finished with only four catches for 28 yards.
“That’s just football,” Manning said. “The first drive, [he] had a drop. After that, I could have made better throws, didn’t have to make it so tough on him. Had a chance with the ‘go’ route in the end zone. He laid out for it. I could have put that in a better spot . . . I probably didn’t have to make them as tough as they were.”
The temperature was frigid — 14 degrees with a wind-chill factor of 4 degrees at kickoff — but Manning is used to that after previous visits here, most famously in the NFC Championship Game nine years ago.
“I’ve played in cold games before,” he said. “You play in the Northeast, you’re going to play in cold games. That doesn’t bother me. I thought I threw the ball well, played fast, saw things and made some good throws.”
It was not enough. After the game, Manning stood staring straight ahead listening to the last few minutes of Beckham’s news conference. The two exchanged brief sympathetic pats as Beckham left.
If the Giants are to go further next January, they will need that partnership to continue. One trick will be finding non-Beckham options that keep opposing defenses honest and Manning flexible.
“It’s always disappointing,” Manning said of the loss, his first in the playoffs since one to the Eagles in 2009, “but it’s a process, and when you have a young team like we do and a lot of guys making the playoffs for the first time, I think you have to look at it as a learning situation for those guys.”
Fair enough, but after 13 seasons, he needs less process and more results if he is to add one more Lombardi Trophy to his case. On Sunday at Vince Lombardi’s old home, another chance slipped away.