We haven’t seen this version of Eli Manning much the last two years, and certainly not a Giants offense this capable of going toe-to-toe with an elite team. But there was the 36-year-old throwing darts against his long-standing NFC East foe and leading drives the way he once did regularly.
He was one play away — just inches away, actually — from completing a remarkable comeback win over the NFC East-leading Eagles, as his fourth-down pass sailed just over Evan Engram’s outstretched hands with 43 seconds to play, assuring Philadelphia of a 34-29 win. But in a lost season, Manning at least proved there still is some magic left in his right arm. That no matter what happens next year — whether he’s still in a Giants uniform or somewhere else — he still can produce passes that only a handful of human beings can.
“I still feel now I can play at a high level and make plays and make throws and win football games,” he said. “It’s been good to go out there and make some plays.”
Manning rekindled memories of his glory days, throwing for 434 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that has been mostly dominant this season. He did it on an afternoon that featured an appropriately weird dynamic at MetLife Stadium, where it seemed as if — and definitely sounded as if — there were many more Eagles fans than Giants fans. In fact, as Manning was driving for what he hoped would be the winning score, there were loud chants of “Dee-fense! Dee-fense!” The crowd noise even prompted right tackle Bobby Hart to commit a false start at the Eagles’ 6-yard line on the play that preceded Manning’s incompletion to Engram.
Speaking of a fourth-down throw from the 11 instead of the 6, Manning said, “You have more options. We had a different play called, where you get four or five guys in the end zone. From the , it’s just tough to get everybody in the end zone with routes. Unfortunate that we had that false start. It’s a tough situation.”
The Giants (2-12) may be limping toward the finish of one of the worst seasons in franchise history, but on this day, Manning played as if the playoffs were on the line. He played the way he did during his two Super Bowl seasons, showing accuracy and bravado.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s game plan was sound — using a heavy dose of slants over the middle and making sure Manning was able to get the ball out of his hands quickly and mute the Eagles’ pass rush. It also helped the Giants overcome their many injuries at wide receiver.
“I liked the game plan,” Manning said. “Obviously, we’ve got guys banged up. I think this style, a lot of up tempo, playing fast, gives us a great opportunity to be successful. It helps out. It’s good to go out there and make some nice plays.”
Manning made enough quality throws to prompt interim coach Steve Spagnuolo to say it’s a “pretty good assumption” that he will start next week against the Cardinals. It looks as if Manning will go the rest of the way. As is fitting for a player who has given so much over the years, and whose individual performance is hardly the biggest issue facing this team.
“Eli is great in my eyes no matter what he does,” wideout Sterling Shepard said. “He just played like he’s capable of today.”
Asked if people sometimes need to be reminded how good Manning can be, Shepard responded emphatically: “Yes, they do! They get after Eli a lot, but that’s how they’re gonna do every quarterback in the National Football League. But Eli is a great guy and a great quarterback. People do need to see that from time to time.”
There are no guarantees about what happens moving forward, and his future remains uncertain. But owner John Mara said during the week that he hopes Manning is a Giant next season, and Manning was heartened to hear that.
“Hey, I want to be back next year as well,” he said. “I love playing for the New York Giants. I love this organization. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, and I try to give back everything I have to this organization and to this team.”
His performance Sunday won’t be enough to dissuade the Giants from potentially taking a quarterback with what could be the second overall pick. Either way, the Giants absolutely need to draft Manning’s successor if they have a conviction on one of the top quarterbacks.
Whether Manning will return and keep the job even with a prized rookie on the roster still is in question. But if he continues to play the way he did Sunday, he at least will make the decision decidedly more difficult.
Eli Manning has nine 400-yard passing games in his 14-season NFL career; the Giants are 4-5 in those games.
Date Opp. Yards Result
12/17/17 Phila. 434 L, 34-29
10/16/16 Balt. 403 W, 27-23
10/11/15 SF 441 W, 30-27
12/28/14 Phila. 429 L, 34-26
9/8/13 Dal. 450 L, 36-31
9/16/12 TB 510 W, 41-34
12/11/11 Dal. 400 W, 37-34
11/28/11 NO 406 L, 49-24
10/9/11 Sea. 420 L, 36-25