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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Eli Manning has his best game yet in Giants' new West Coast offense

Eli Manning #10 of the Giants throws a

Eli Manning #10 of the Giants throws a pass in the first half of a game against the Houston Texans at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The doubts about Eli Manning's suitability for the West Coast offense weren't completely erased by what happened Sunday. But considering the skepticism surrounding the Giants' 33-year-old quarterback coming into the season, especially after all the problems of a difficult acclimation process throughout the offseason and training camp, Manning's mostly flawless afternoon in a 30-17 win over the Texans at least offers him a respite from the skeptics.

A week after displaying more than a few flashes of promise against Arizona, Manning put together one of the most effective performances since his Super Bowl year of 2011. He went 21-for-28 for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and he looked entirely comfortable with first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's newly installed system.

Manning finished with a 123.2 rating, his best since the final game of the 2012 season, when he threw for five touchdowns and no interceptions in a meaningless game against the Eagles. You have to go back to his 2011 finale against the Cowboys to find a better regular-season rating.

The impressive numbers were a reflection of what Manning, his teammates and his coaches believe is a genuine improvement that is rooted in the quarterback's dogged determination to get this thing right.

Remember, it was barely a month ago that Manning was the subject of nearly universal derision for his slow adaptation to McAdoo's offense, and more than a few critics wondered if we were witnessing Manning's decline.

One promising game doesn't answer all the questions, but Manning certainly offered convincing evidence that he at least deserves the benefit of time in formulating a more definitive assessment.

"He played a very good game . . . played very, very well," coach Tom Coughlin said of Manning, who had his first interception-free game since last Nov. 24. "He plays a very, very solid game, a very outstanding mental game, and he did that today."

What he did was show us how the West Coast offense is supposed to look. The quick-strike passes off quick dropbacks, such as the short slant he completed to Victor Cruz, who took it 61 yards. And the 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Fells, a perfectly timed strike in the end zone. And the continued chemistry he has forged with second-year tight end Larry Donnell, who had a team-high six catches.

It helped, too, that Rashad Jennings had the best day of his career with 176 rushing yards, something that not only helped the Giants build a sizable time-of-possession advantage but benefited Manning's play-action passing game.

The offensive line was brilliant, too, negating All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt, opening plenty of holes for Jennings and limiting the Texans to one first-quarter sack by Watt.

"That is the way it is supposed to work," Manning said of the offense. "I thought it started up front with our offensive line. Rashad ran hard. The receivers, we got the ball out quick and they made catches. It was efficient. I thought we had a good combination and a good mix."

Cruz could tell by the way Manning practiced during the week that it would carry over into the game. "He just locked in during practice," Cruz said. "I think he completed like 90 percent of his throws. He was confident. He knew exactly what he had to do, and he was confident in every throw and every check at the line that he made. It's good to see."

Manning looked more than just functional. He looked exceptional. And he looked like someone who is putting his superior football intellect to good use.

"He's seeing a lot of things that are coming before the snap," Cruz said. "So that's really a big help for us to get our timing down with him."

One game, one promising performance. But still a lot of time left for things to unravel the way they did last year. Or a lot of time for Manning to master the offense even further and be more like the two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback, not the one who threw a franchise-record 27 interceptions last year.

New York Sports