Giants grateful for Eli Manning's remarkable durability
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The Giants had to scramble this week to pull together as much information as possible on Scott Tolzien, the Packers' third-string quarterback who will get his first NFL start against them Sunday. They dug through college scouting reports, pored over preseason footage and examined as closely as they could the fraction of a regular-season game on his resume after last week's emergency playing time.
It was a difficult, head-spinning task for the Giants, but imagine having that kind of mad scuttle to find a quarterback instead of just scout one?
"I'd like not to," said Tom Coughlin, who's been lucky enough during his time with the Giants to never be in that situation. He's made one decision regarding the starting quarterback in his nearly 10 full seasons with the team, and that came in late November 2004 when he replaced Kurt Warner with rookie Eli Manning. Since then Manning has started the last 144 regular-season games -- the equivalent of nine full seasons -- and won two Super Bowls. They won their latest championship without Manning missing a single snap in the 2011 season.
There have been times when that streak seemed to be in danger. The shoulder injury in 2007. The foot injury in 2008. The farcical idea of benching him earlier this year. But the Giants have enjoyed stability at the most important position on the field for nearly a decade while their opponent this week has had its quarterback job thrown into turmoil.
Tolzien, who played at Wisconsin, replaced Seneca Wallace a week after Wallace replaced Aaron Rodgers, who fractured his left collarbone. Tolzien will be the Packers' third starting quarterback this season. And with them signing former backup Matt Flynn this week, there could be a fourth in four weeks, looking ahead.
It's not only the Packers. Since Manning made his starting debut Nov. 21, 2004, 152 quarterbacks have started for the other 31 NFL teams. Tolzien will be No. 153.
"I do feel like we're fortunate," Justin Tuck said. "This is our ninth year together and every game that I've played, he's played. That's rare."
The only current Giant who played in a non-Manning-started game for the team is David Diehl. For the other 51 guys, Eli is all they've ever known.
Coughlin said he understands the chaos when there are moving (and sometimes broken) parts at the quarterback position, even though it's been a while since he's dealt with it.
"I think you just do the best you can,'' he said. "You just keep reloading. The difficult one [for the Packers], I'm sure, was the first series in Chicago when everything is set for the first quarterback. Your second guy doesn't take very many snaps. He's in on everything but he doesn't take very many snaps.''
This week, Tolzien is.
"I expect him to do well, probably a little bit better now that he's had a week of practice with us,'' Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. "Knowing that he's going to be the starter, we'll be game-planning for his skills.''
The Giants may not be able to relate to what the Packers are going through -- Nelson described it as "hectic'' and "shock to the system'' -- but they are not going to have any sympathy for them. Tuck gave a confused face with a smile when asked if he feels sorry for the Packers. Cornerback Terrell Thomas said the defense can "definitely'' get into the head of such an inexperienced quarterback.
"He's the best,'' linebacker Jon Beason said of Rodgers. "Not having him is going to hurt their offense.''
There are instances when backups take over, even for established starters who are injured. Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick became stars coming off the bench. Nick Foles has become the Eagles' most dynamic passer thanks in part to the hamstring injury Michael Vick suffered against the Giants. Foles rallied the Eagles to win that Week 5 game.
"We've faced this challenge a couple of times this year, playing against backup quarterbacks,'' Thomas said. "Our coaches do a great job of preparing us for the worst-case scenario.''
And by that, he means the other team's worst. No one on the Giants wants to think about their own.