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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Eli looking more like an elite quarterback

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants looks on after the game against the St. Louis Rams at MetLife Stadium. (Sept. 19, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

As good a quarterback as Eli Manning has been for the Giants over the years, he's even better at staying away from controversial remarks in a market that looks at juicy quotes like red meat for the back pages.

Which made it all the more remarkable that he created such a media kerfuffle in mid-August with his out-of-character proclamation that he belonged in the same conversation as the NFL's elite quarterbacks, such as Tom Brady of the Patriots.

"I thought I gave a normal interview and that nothing would come out of it," Manning said Wednesday in front of his locker. "It was the [preseason], not much to talk about, so you've got to make news about something."

Maybe it was a slow news week, but such bravado on Manning's part really was unusual. Especially because he put himself in a class with Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers after muddling through a season with a career-high 25 interceptions.

But now that he's off to one of his best statistical starts, maybe Manning is entitled to talk a little trash -- at least by his standards. After all, only four quarterbacks have a rating of more than 100 -- Rodgers (125.7), Brady (104.8), Brees (104.6) . . . and Manning (101.1). And with 11 touchdown passes and five interceptions, his ratio of 2.2-1 is equaled or exceeded by only six starters.

"I'm not trying to prove a point. I'm trying to play football," Manning said. "I don't take back my answer. If I had to do it again, maybe I'd say I'm not the one rating quarterbacks. I'm just trying to play my position."

But maybe it's not such a bad thing that Manning steps out of character every once in a while, especially when he backs it up on the field. It's somewhat reminiscent of how he handled former Giant Tiki Barber's biting criticism when Barber became a television announcer in 2007. He called Manning "comical" when referring to a speech Eli had made to teammates.

"I'm just happy for Tiki that he's making a smooth transition into the TV world," Manning shot back. "I'll be interested to see if he has anything to say [about a team] besides the Giants, and what his comments will be on that. It's just one of those deals. I'm not going to lose any sleep about what Tiki has to say."

He didn't lose any sleep. He won the Super Bowl.

It's too early to tell if the Giants have enough to make another championship run, but it isn't too soon to say that Manning has elevated his game significantly over last season. He's much more careful, as his fewer interceptions indicate. And he is making an impressive transition with a different cast of receivers now that Steve Smith and Kevin Boss no longer are with the team.

Eli's durability, never in question, is even more pronounced now that his big brother Peyton had a 208-game starting streak ended because of a neck injury. Eli is the active leader with 109 straight starts since 2004. Consider that there have been a combined 21 other starters in the NFC East alone since his streak began.

His brother's injury is just another reminder of why he'll never take anything for granted.

"You're constantly reminded how precious this time playing football, this opportunity, is, and knowing that you never know when it's your last play of the season or last play of a career," he said. "So you always want to go out there and give it your fullest in your preparation every week. Sunday, that's the fun time. You get to celebrate touchdowns and have fun playing the game."

Manning said he believes Peyton will play again. And he added that the neck problems that cut short older brother Cooper Manning's career after college were not similar to Peyton's issue. And Eli said both he and Peyton were checked out by doctors to rule out a similar issue related to spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal.

All Eli is concerned about is playing well and winning games. And not necessarily in that order. He'll leave the comparison business to others.

"I'm not into rating myself right now," he said. "I'm trying to put our team in situations to win games, and I think I've done a pretty good job. I'm just trying to make reads, play smart and throw it to the open guy. That's my only concern, winning the game."

So no more talk about being an elite quarterback, OK?

Then again, you can't spell elite without E-L-I.

New York Sports