We've never really seen anything like this from Eli Manning, so it's uncharted territory as far as figuring out how he'll respond from that nationally televised series of late-game gaffes in last week's 27-26 meltdown against the Cowboys.
Manning has always been one of the most cerebral quarterbacks in the game, so the fact that he not only blanked as far as how many timeouts the Cowboys had remaining but needlessly asked running back Rashad Jennings not to score on two consecutive running plays makes his brain freeze all the more jarring.
But there may be a clue about how Manning comes back from the opening night collapse, and it lies in how he has reacted after previous low moments in his Giants career -- albeit failures that were strictly physical, not intellectual. And if Manning can transform the angst he brought upon himself in the final moments of the Cowboys game similar to the ways he recovered from some of his most dreadful performances, then perhaps the Dallas game in the rear view mirror won't look quite so bad.
THE WORST OF ELI
For all of Manning's successes, there have been some dismal moments. Many dismal moments, in fact. He may be a two-time Super Bowl MVP and a potential Hall of Fame passer, but Manning has not been immune to the occasional misstep.
How about that game as a rookie against the Ravens in 2004, his fourth career start, when he went Blutarski and put up a quarterback rating of 0.0 -- the midterm grade point average of the famed "Animal House" character played by John Belushi.
A year later, Manning threw four picks against the Vikings. There was another four-interception performance against Minnesota in 2007, after which even general manager Jerry Reese suggested that Manning looked "skittish" in the pocket.
And how about that three interception late-season performance against Washington in a 23-10 home loss in 2011, when it looked as if the Giants might not make it to the playoffs.
BOUNCE BACKAfter every one of the aforementioned clunkers, Manning responded with some of his most impressive work. Two of those disastrous outings -- in 2007 and 2011 -- ended with Super Bowl championships.
So it stands to reason that Manning will respond similarly to his latest gaffe, even if the Dallas loss was more a function of his brain and not his arm.
The Giants host the Falcons in their home opener Sunday, so there is no reason Manning can't -- and won't -- come up with an effort more representative of the $85 million the Giants recently invested in him over a four-year contract extension. We've seen this man respond too many times in the face of adversity.
"There are going to be good games, bad games, but it's all about moving on to the next one," Manning said. "You have to learn from every game and you have to get ready. We have to play better and find a way to win."
Been there, done that. Plenty.
A week after putting up the goose egg rating against the Ravens, Manning responded with his most encouraging rookie performance with a 103.9 rating against the Steelers. He went on to win his first Super Bowl on the heels of that awful game against the Vikings in 2007. And after the late-season loss to Washington four years later, he won a crucial game against the Jets (see: Victor Cruz's 99-yard touchdown catch-and-run) and went on to win another Super Bowl.
Manning has shown a remarkable ability to move on to the next game and not be affected by previous issues. And that's not an easy thing, especially in this market, where controversy quickly bubbles to the surface at the first hint of trouble. What made last week's problems so mystifying is that it had nothing to do with how he played, but how he thought.
Throughout his career, Manning has always been smarter than almost everyone on the field. Or on the sidelines. But this time, he outthought himself and paid the price by losing a precious opportunity to score a massive win on the road against a divisional opponent. He didn't have the good sense to just try and go up by two scores in the final minutes; instead, he wanted to bleed the clock and make sure Dallas couldn't make it all the way back.
It backfired in spectacular fashion, and turned Manning into a lightning rod for criticism.
Manning fessed up early and often, putting the blame on himself the way all good leaders do. And his teammates responded by rallying around their quarterback. "Through thick and thin, we're going to be behind Eli,'' wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. "He's going to lead us and we're going to follow.''
Time for Manning to make up for what went wrong last week. If past performance is any indication, he'll do his part.
"It should be a great environment, get to play a home game, first home game of the season is always fun, great crowd,'' Manning said. "Hopefully we give them what they want.''