Eli Manning has made a career on late-game comebacks and clutch performances. Whether it’s winning Super Bowls in the fourth quarter or leading the Giants back with unlikely touchdown passes, this has been his calling card.
He reached back one more time Thursday night, but with a chance to get his team into the playoffs with another dramatic flourish, he couldn’t pull it off.
Faced with a win-and-in scenario against the struggling Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, he simply couldn’t come up with the big play at the right time. Or almost any time, for that matter.
With the Giants needing his best, Manning couldn’t summon the type of signature game that has defined his legacy and made him a likely Hall of Fame quarterback. He threw a career-high 63 times and completed 38 for 356 yards, but he also had three key interceptions, including one to end the last hopes for a comeback in a 24-19 loss to the Eagles.
At 10-5, the Giants are in good position to qualify for one of two NFC wild-card spots. Even so, Manning’s continued struggles in a season of inconsistency make you wonder just how far this team can go if and when it does get into the tournament.
The Giants haven’t even scored 20 points in a game during the last month, and with one more regular-season game to go in Washington and then the postseason, it’s not as if Manning is about to flip a switch and turn into the quarterback who somehow managed two colossal upsets of the Patriots in his two Super Bowl appearances.
If he couldn’t solve the Eagles’ defense, which had been mostly inept during a 2-9 skid that followed a 3-0 start, then how is he going to play against the likes of the Falcons, Seahawks, Packers, Cowboys or any other team he faces in January?
It’s a problem, and the Giants have to know that getting their offense to play at a higher level is the single biggest factor in whether they make a serious run or are a one-and-done.
Coach Ben McAdoo offered a clipped assessment of his quarterback after what he admitted was a poorly coached and poorly played game by his own team. “We turned the ball over too much,” he said of Manning, who had the Giants’ only turnovers. “The quarterback got hit too much. Not a recipe for success.”
Manning was under consistent pressure, although he didn’t get sacked. The more disturbing issue was the passes he forced into coverage. Such as the one on the Giants’ second drive, when he tried to hit tight end Will Tye but was picked off by safety Malcolm Jenkins, who returned it 34 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead with 8:20 to play in the first quarter.
The Giants never caught up, but Manning did have a chance to rekindle memories of his best days in the NFL.
He got the Giants deep in Eagles’ territory late in the fourth quarter, converting a fourth-and-5 with a 10-yard pass to Odell Beckham Jr., but had to settle for a field goal to make it 24-19.
There were two more chances after that. On the first, he missed on a fourth-down pass to Sterling Shepard. It seemed as if that would be it for the Giants, but some questionable play-calling by Eagles coach Doug Pederson gave the Giants one more possession. Manning got the Giants to the Eagles’ 34 with 20 seconds left. He sent Beckham into the end zone on a double move and had the receiver open between three defenders, but his pass sailed over Beckham’s head.
“It’s not a route we throw all the time,” Manning said. “Kind of a desperation moment there, one of those plays, just didn’t make it. It was there, and we didn’t make it, and it could have been a winner.”
Beckham blamed himself, even though the ball looked clearly overthrown. “I just didn’t make the play,” he said. “It was put where it needed to be. I just needed a little more gas in me to go get it. I thought I’d be able to get to it and I didn’t. That weighs heavily on me. I want to make those plays for this team and we had our destiny in our hands and we just didn’t come up with it.”
On the next play, Manning’s deep pass intended for Tye was picked off by Terrence Brooks.
The Giants needed one more play from Manning and couldn’t get it. You can’t help but wonder if he still has one more championship run in him. The evidence doesn’t suggest it will happen.