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Eli Manning pushing Giants toward playoffs

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants runs off the field after beating Dallas Cowboys. (Getty) Credit: Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants runs off the field after beating Dallas Cowboys. (Getty)

So maybe Eli Manning really is an elite quarterback after all.

If fourth-quarter numbers were the only gauge, Manning would probably be headed to Canton right now. With a team-record six fourth-quarter comeback victories this year, he has easily earned the title of Mr. Clutch as much as his more famous brother Peyton.

But there is another part to Manning, one which allows him to make all those throws and engineer those game-winning drives: He's all but immune to pressure.

It's gotten so that even the Giants' leaky, late-game defense - which allowed Aaron Rodgers to mount a last-minute field goal drive and Tony Romo to nearly wreck a comeback from 12 points down in the final 3:14 - has nothing but admiration for Manning's poise and determination.

"We always know he's going to get it done," defensive tackle Chris Canty said in Monday's aftermath of their season-saving 37-34 win in Cowboys Stadium. "We pretty much know that when our offense is going down and putting a drive together the last five minutes of a ball game, we have a pretty good shot at scoring points."

The victory over the Cowboys (7-6) - which put the Giants (7-6) in first place of the NFC East and in charge of their own playoff fate - was a perfect example. Manning actually made a huge mistake, getting a ball batted at the line and intercepted by linebacker Sean Lee to set up a touchdown that swelled the Cowboys' lead to 34-22.

"Eli comes to the sideline," coach Tom Coughlin recalled of Manning following that interception. "He's very disappointed, but he puts it in its place, and the next time we get the ball, he goes right back out there and rallies the troops."

On the following possession, Manning found Victor Cruz for 20 and Hakeem Nicks for 35 of his 154 receiving yards to position tight end Jake Ballard for a game-tightening touchdown catch.

On the next possession, Mario Manningham dropped an easy end-zone throw, but Manning didn't let it bother him. That drive, the Giants' last, ended with a touchdown as well.

Dallas' defense did everything they could short of sacking Manning - something it failed to accomplish - but Manning handled the near-constant blitz pressure well. Coughlin has always crowed about Manning's intelligence in film sessions, and his teammates loved that he came in last week amid a four-game losing streak cracking jokes to loosen things up.

He's become the complete package, at least at this most important stage of the season.

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