Eli Manning has been through a lot of these soul-searching losses, probably more than he’d care to remember during his 13-plus seasons with the Giants. But if there’s one thing the Giants’ 36-year-old quarterback has learned is that it’s pointless to obsess over them.
Which is precisely why Manning on Wednesday made sure his teammates don’t take their cues from a legion of critics and dwell too long on their woeful performance in Sunday night’s 19-3 loss to the Cowboys. Yes, the Giants stunk up AT&T Stadium with one of the worst offensive showings in recent memory — which is saying something, because recent memory includes a bunch of brutal efforts. But Manning knows now is not the time for him or the people around him to be consumed by self-doubt.
Asked if he is worried about the offense, Manning said he is most certainly not.
“First game,” he said. “Guys were playing fast, got some good guys out there, some new bodies, so we’ll bounce back. We’ll be fine. We just have to slow down, everybody take a breath and just run the plays the way we’ve been running them all spring and all summer.”
Manning thus took a page from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ psychological playbook, although not with quite the dramatic flair as Rodgers when he addressed panicked Green Bay fans after a 1-2 start in 2014.
“Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packer-land: R-E-L-A-X,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show. “Relax. We’re going to be OK.”
Rodgers had failed to throw for 200 yards in two of his first three games, and the Green Bay offense ranked 28th after the sluggish start. But the Packers wound up winning the NFC North with a 12-4 record and made it to the NFC Championship Game before losing to the Seahawks.
Manning’s prescription for what ails the Giants’ offense?
“We just have to execute,” he said. “Just convert on some third downs, get into a rhythm early, so that’ll be the key.”
The Giants never got into any rhythm against the Cowboys, getting only two first downs in the first half and trailing 16-0 at intermission. Their only scoring drive came on a drive that lasted nearly 10 minutes at the start of the third quarter and ended with Aldrick Rosas’ 25-yard field goal. The Giants had a first-and-goal from the Dallas 5, but a nine-yard sack of Manning on second down and then a 6-yard pass on third down forced them to settle for a field goal. And that was it.
It was the worst offensive performance of Ben McAdoo’s 18-game coaching career, and the continuation of a trend that began down the stretch last year. It was the seventh straight game the Giants had scored fewer than 20 points.
There were problems everywhere: Doubts about the offensive line only intensified, Brandon Marshall had just one catch, the Giants rushed for just 35 yards, and the Giants were repeatedly thwarted by the Cowboys’ use of a variety of zone defenses. It didn’t help that their best playmaker, Odell Beckham Jr., missed the game with an ankle injury, but there was still no excuse for being that bad.
“We didn’t have the ball long enough,” Manning said. “We didn’t convert on third downs. We weren’t stuck in third-and-10s and 12s, it was third-and-fours and fives. We have to convert on those and give us more opportunities to run our full offense. First two possessions were three-and-outs. You don’t have many possessions in the first half. Second half, we had a good drive to start it and go down there and got a sack that kept us from getting in the end zone there. We just have to do a better job staying on the field.”
Manning is convinced the problems are temporary, not systemic, and that things will get better starting with Monday night’s game against the Lions at MetLife Stadium.
“Just execute,” Manning said. “Just play the way we can play, the way we know how to execute, and we should be fine.”
In a swirl of criticism, Manning’s message of calm strikes the right tone for an offense that can’t afford another no-show like the one Sunday night. After all, panic will only compound the problems.
“You just have to be confident in what you’re doing,” he said, “understand what you need to fix and then go play fast.”
Manning hopes his teammates will heed his words. On a night when the Giants will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of their remarkable run to Super Bowl XLII, a game that burnished Manning’s own legacy as one of the game’s great clutch players, the quarterback’s current team needs to prove itself worthy of inclusion of this year’s Super Bowl contenders.
If not, then this will ultimately turn into a season of hollow expectations.