Eli Manning is off to one of the best starts of his 12-season career. He's thrown 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions, and he's coming off a spectacular come-from-behind win over the 49ers.
It's no coincidence, as his conversation back in January with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo will attest. Manning improved over the course of the Giants' disappointing 2014 season, and McAdoo promised the trajectory would continue.
"McAdoo showed me some numbers of Brett Favre from his first to his second year in this offense,'' Manning said Thursday. "The second year was much better than the first.''
In 1993, Favre's first full season as the Packers' starter, he threw 19 TD passes and a league-high 24 interceptions. A year later, he had 33 TD passes and 14 picks in the first of five straight seasons with at least 30 scoring passes. The next year, he had 38 TD passes, and the season after that, he threw 39 and the Packers won the Super Bowl.
"It's a comfort level, your understanding of it,'' said Manning, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his three-touchdown performance against the 49ers. "It's not just me. It's the offensive line, receivers, everybody having a better understanding, the timing of it. We just have to keep it going.''
Manning has been the Giants' most indispensable player since becoming the starter as a rookie in 2004. It is especially true now as the injury bug infects the roster, with the notable exception of quarterback. He is set for his 173rd consecutive start Monday night in Philadelphia.
He might not have his top two receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle, who have hamstring problems, but the Giants still will have a fighting chance as long as Eli is in the lineup. The Giants also are beset by several injuries on defense, with ends Robert Ayers and George Selvie, linebacker Jon Beason and cornerback Prince Amukamara hurt.
That places even more importance on Manning, who has been through this drill many times. The Giants' last two Super Bowl titles came despite several key injuries.
Sometimes the endings are far less rewarding, such as when they had losing records the last two seasons. But Manning is encouraged now that the Giants have recovered from an 0-2 start to get to 3-2 and the NFC East lead. He likes his team and his offensive blueprint, understanding why so many other accomplished quarterbacks swear by the West Coast system run by McAdoo.
"It's quarterback-friendly, where you know what you like, the ball comes out quickly and you shouldn't take a lot of hits,'' said Manning, who has been sacked only four times, and just once in the last three games. "It makes sense where you have progressions and reads and have guys who can get open. It makes life easy.''
Or as easy as possible, especially in a hostile environment. Philadelphia is one of the toughest places in the league to play, with the crowd making it difficult for any quarterback. But Manning has known that all along. He got his first taste of NFL action against the Eagles in relief of Kurt Warner in a 31-17 loss in Week 1 in 2004.
"I remember the first play, handed off to Tiki Barber, he went about 75 yards for a touchdown. I said, 'This is easy,' '' he said. "Then I took the biggest hit of my life on the last play.''
He was crushed by Eagles tackle Jerome McDougle and fumbled on his final play. Said Manning, "It was my 'Welcome to the NFL' hit, for sure.''
More than 11 years later, it's back to Philly for another go at the Eagles, and Manning is a far more accomplished quarterback. And just as he has been his entire career as the starter, he's still the last man standing. And still the Giants' best chance.