One of the few things the Giants are sure about as dawn breaks on 2014 is that Eli Manning is their quarterback. And one of the things that Manning is certain of is that he can and will improve.
Manning turns 33 this week and will most likely be the longest-tenured Giant when the next season begins. But at an age when most NFL careers are starting to go into steep decline, Manning doesn't have to look very far for a prime example of deep thirtysomething quarterbacking prowess.
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"You can get better and I think that's the case with Peyton and having the best year of his career at 37," Manning said of his older brother, who will most likely win another MVP this season and set records for most passing yards and touchdowns in 2013. "So I know I can get better. I can make improvements. I can play at a high level and definitely improve my game these next years and get back to making the playoffs and winning championships."
Peyton Manning's late-in-life success could be an outlier, as so many things he accomplishes seem to be. Of the 12 teams who will be in the playoffs starting this weekend, only three starting quarterbacks are older than Eli Manning: Peyton, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Four of them -- Nick Foles, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton -- are 25 or younger.
Eli Manning already has one more Super Bowl win than Peyton, although that might change in a few weeks. Eli said he will attend the big game at MetLife Stadium only if Peyton and the Broncos are playing in it.
What he wanted to be doing is playing in it himself, but that dream was shattered long ago. Eli Manning had one of the worst seasons of his career. His passer rating was worse than only two other quarterbacks in the NFL, he threw a career-high 27 interceptions -- including ones on his first and last passes of the season -- and was sacked 39 times. He also suffered a high ankle sprain in the regular-season finale and left the stadium in a walking boot and on crutches on Sunday.
So when the Giants believe things will improve, it's not just New Year's optimism. It's simply hard to imagine them getting any worse.
When Giants management spoke about the disappointments of 2013 and the potential changes that are in store for the coming season, they made sure to say that Manning is still the player they think can deliver them to further success. General manager Jerry Reese emphasized the idea that everyone on the roster and staff is evaluated, including Manning, but co-owner John Mara pretty much made that process a formality.
"I still have every confidence in him," Mara said. "He's still the face of the franchise and we need to help him. We need to give him some better tools and do a better job around him next year."
That includes a better offensive line, which Mara said is the top priority this offseason, and some consistency at running back. None of those lacking parts absolves Manning.
"We have a lot of confidence in Eli, but he has to play better," Reese said. "We expect him to play better, he expects himself to play better. One of the things that attracted us to him when he came out of Ole Miss was that he made everybody around him better, and obviously, there has to be some better personnel around him. But some of the things that happened, he's got to own it, as well."
He appears to be.
"I need to play better and . . . in certain games I didn't play as good as I needed to, to win the game," Manning said. "Some games were just tough and we got outplayed on some games, but I can definitely improve and I need to and I will."
NOTES & QUOTES:
When S Will Hill was arrested for an outstanding child support payment on Dec. 20, the officer who made the arrest also smelled and saw evidence of marijuana use in the car Hill owned, according to reports. Hill was not arrested on drug charges and no drugs were found in a search of the vehicle, which had three other people in it. Hill was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy and told reporters this summer that he had been using marijuana; the NFL is monitoring the situation. "Obviously, the league is aware of Will's history and already has been involved on that level," the Giants said in a statement. "This arrest, which we made the league aware of at the time, was for a personal matter that Will is addressing." Hill played in the Dec. 22 game against the Lions and had a key interception return for a touchdown in the overtime win.