Hello, Eli. Welcome back. It’s been a while since you were last here, but surely you remember.
You know, the times when the NFL gods offer you the chance to create plenty of good fortune for the Giants by offering up so many best-case scenarios. And then you take those opportunities and turn them into crises by putting on some of the worst performances of your career.
And here you are once more after an inexplicable meltdown in Washington, when it was all there for the taking. A win over your NFC East rival, which you had vanquished seven of the previous nine times at FedEx Field, and there’s a clear path to the NFC East title. With the Cowboys and Eagles doing their part by losing, this was the chance to begin to pull away from the pack and get in position for a run at a third Super Bowl title.
And now this . . .
It really is astonishing how often this happens to Eli Manning’s Giants, and it makes you wonder how in the world a guy with two Super Bowl MVP awards puts himself in this situation so often.
Throughout his 12-year career in New York, there have been so many crisis points similar to the one the quarterback now finds himself in once more. Go back as far as 2006, when the Giants lost back-to-back home games against the Eagles and Saints and saw their playoff hopes teeter at the edge of the abyss. At 7-8 and with Tom Coughlin’s coaching career in peril, Manning and Tiki Barber bailed them out in the regular- season finale in Washington and got the Giants into the playoffs.
A year later, they won their first Super Bowl of the Manning-Coughlin era, but not without some similarly precarious moments, with most of the blame laying at Manning’s feet. He threw four interceptions in a brutal 41-17 home loss on Nov. 25 against the Vikings, after which general manager Jerry Reese referred to Manning’s pocket behavior as “skittish.” A few weeks later, the Giants lost at home to Washington, 22-10, as Manning was just 18-for-53 on a frigid, windy night when offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride acted more as if it were 70 degrees and sunny.
But Manning recovered from those clunkers, the Giants made the playoffs the following week in Buffalo, and they ran the table in January before upsetting the previously unbeaten Patriots in that epic Super Bowl XLII. And even in that game, there were moments of doubt that weren’t fully dissipated until Manning and David Tyree connected on one of the most amazing plays in NFL history late in the fourth quarter.
Four years later, Manning was again presented with a glorious opportunity to ease the Giants into playoff position. A week after a dramatic 37-34 win over the Cowboys in Dallas, Manning threw three picks in a woeful home loss to — you guessed it, Washington again — and their playoff hopes hung in the balance once again.
And then, some more Manning magic the following week against the Jets, as he shakes off a woeful first half, finds Victor Cruz in the right flat on a pass from his end zone, and watches Cruz race 99 yards for the touchdown. The Giants beat the Jets, 29-14, beat the Cowboys at home a week later, and then swept to another Super Bowl victory, with Manning playing some of the best football of his career.
And now this . . .
“I don’t think there is something to it,” Manning said, when asked if he was troubled by his inability to play well ;with prosperity. “I think we just have to find ways to make some plays. I don’t think it’s a matter of something with the team, we have a lot of new guys on the team that haven’t been a part of these teams these last few years, so it’s just a matter of us coming together and making plays.”
True enough that there are new players on his team, almost none of whom has been with the Giants during their Super Bowl years. But that means that Manning himself is the common thread here, as well as Coughlin, who has seen other instances where his team has blown tremendous opportunities. Who can forget the Giants turning a 31-10 fourth-quarter lead against the Eagles into a 38-31 loss late in the 2010 season that essentially ruined their playoff hopes? Coughlin spent hours sitting in a darkened room after that game, trying to piece together all that had gone wrong.
Out of the depths of his despair that night eventually sprung the one-word sense of resolve — “Finish” — that Coughlin instilled in his team the following year. The finish: Coughlin held aloft the Vince Lombardi Trophy for a second time.
Just as it seemed in previous instances where Manning flopped, a palpable sense of doom now envelops this team and this quarterback. The expectations are suddenly transformed from tremendous possibilities to anxiety-riddled gloom.
“We need a win to stay where we are in the division and we have to take it one game at a time,” he said. “This is the next game and an important one, not just because it’s Giants versus Jets and both teams share a stadium in the same city and everything, but it’s important because of what it means for our playoff hunt.”
Eli knows. Jets-Giants in 2015 is just as big as it was in 2011.
Jobs are on the line. So is Manning’s legacy.