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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Despite loss, Eli Manning is looking more comfortable

Eli Manning #10 of the Giants looks to

Eli Manning #10 of the Giants looks to throw the pass against the Arizona Cardinals at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 14, 2014 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Mike Stobe

Lost in the mess that the Giants devolved into in a second straight meltdown was one potentially critical development, something that will be of vital importance if the team somehow finds its way out of an 0-2 hole: Eli Manning looked like a mostly functional quarterback again.

A rose-colored-glasses view of a 25-14 loss to a Cardinals team that was playing backup Drew Stanton in place of Carson Palmer? Perhaps.

But after a preseason in which Manning was mostly brutal in adapting to new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's West Coast offense, and after a regular-season opener in which Manning looked lost in a 35-14 loss in Detroit, it must be noted that the quarterback looked far more comfortable running the offense.

Sure, the Giants scored only 14 points, which must come close to doubling if they are to start winning again. But Sunday's dearth of points also can be attributed to five dropped passes as well as a hard-luck interception as the Giants were driving deep in Arizona territory in the first quarter. Had Victor Cruz not slipped while trying to execute a simple slant route, Manning's pass might not have caromed off defensive lineman Tommy Kelly and into the arms of Sam Acho at the Cardinals' 29.

Manning completed 26 of 39 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions (his second pick was a desperation throw with four seconds left). He would have had another 96 yards if not for the drops.

Cruz, who went all Keyshawn Johnson earlier in the week by asking his quarterback to throw him the damn ball, dropped three passes and heard the crowd reaction transform from exultant cheers of "Cruuuuuuz" to "Booooooo" with each drop.

But Manning, a relentlessly positive individual who never gets on a teammate for a mistake, saw progress despite the lapses and final score. He also understands that a turnaround must come quickly. Yet there were enough indicators to tell him that the issues of the first two games won't be enough to ruin the season and that this won't be a repeat of last year's 0-6 start.

"I thought we did some good things, but we just made too many mistakes that were big mistakes and left a few opportunities out there on the field that we needed to make," he said. "We have to score more points, [but] you see the plays that we made and you feel good about those. You see some of the plays that were out there to be made and we had good opportunities to make them; we just didn't execute quite well enough. We saw improvement, and hopefully we can build off that."

Manning looked much more comfortable executing McAdoo's game plan compared with the loss in Detroit, where he was barely functional, especially during a two-interception sequence in the third quarter. His footwork was crisp, his reads were almost always correct, he threw with more authority and he looked as though he made a quantum leap in his comfort level.

It wasn't Manning's fault that the Giants surrendered a punt-return touchdown in the fourth quarter and that Quintin Demps fumbled the ensuing kickoff, leading to an Arizona field goal.

Manning has been in plenty of tight spots before, extricating himself and his team from some of them -- especially the ones with two Super Bowl titles on the line -- and failing to turn things around in others. He remains defiantly optimistic that there is hope for another escape.

"I think the spirit of the team is in a good spot," Manning said. "We've got to build off each other's momentum and just finish some drives. There's definitely areas for improvement, but I think we know where those are."

For the Giants to have a chance this year, that improvement has to come immediately. If not, it will be another lost year and there will be a ton of changes in store.

Manning believes those changes don't have to come just yet.

New York Sports