Eli Manning looks with more than just a passing interest at the Jets' quarterback situation, and can relate to Mark Sanchez's struggles better than perhaps anyone else right now. After all, he was in a remarkably similar situation -- albeit with one notable exception -- at just about the same point in his career.
With Sanchez scuffling in recent weeks and calls increasing for coach Rex Ryan to replace him with backup Tim Tebow, Manning wants the Jets' quarterback to know he has a fan in the Giants' locker room.
"I root for Mark," Manning told me. "I've been through it, and there are definitely growing pains. Obviously, when fans and media start calling for the backup to start playing, it wouldn't be an easy situation to deal with."
Manning experienced a similar dynamic in his fourth season with the Giants. Like Sanchez, he showed plenty of promise early in his career, yet hit a point in the middle of his fourth year where doubts crept in about how good he could actually become. There was one particularly difficult period in the aftermath of a 41-17 home loss to the Vikings, when Manning threw four interceptions and general manager Jerry Reese used the word "skittish" to describe his behavior in the pocket.
Manning can smile about it now as he looks back, but he recalls those struggles and relates them to what Sanchez is going through now as the 3-5 Jets ponder their precarious situation during the bye week.
"That's just part of learning to be a quarterback and learning to keep studying, studying, keep preparing, keep trying to get better each week, dealing with whatever circumstance comes along," Manning said. "Sometimes some things are your fault, and some things are not your fault."
The one big difference between Manning and Sanchez: their respective backup quarterback situations. When Manning struggled, there was no chance the Giants would turn to backups Jared Lorenzen or Anthony Wright. But Sanchez's understudy is Tebow, who led Denver to last year's playoffs after replacing starter Kyle Orton less than halfway through the season. There is now an increasing groundswell of support from many fans and media members for Ryan to switch quarterbacks.
Would it have been more stressful for Manning had there been a similar situation in his fourth season?
"Maybe so," Manning said, declining to elaborate much more than that. "You never know."
The Giants knew enough not to bring in a backup who could threaten Manning's standing with the team. But it's a fair question to ask: Would Manning have turned into a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback had he been faced with the possibility of a benching at that difficult time in his career? We'll never know, and Manning is undoubtedly better off not having had to find out.
Manning does like the loyalty Ryan has shown so far by sticking with Sanchez, especially at a time when it might have been easy for the coach to go with Tebow. At least in terms of the popularity of such a move.
"I think that's what you've got to do," Manning said of Ryan staying with Sanchez. "When your coaches and the players have faith in you, and you have faith in yourself, that's going to get you through."
And Manning does believe Sanchez, who turns 26 on Nov. 11, will be better off for the experience, even if it might not feel that way now.
"He'll get through it. He's a young kid. He's got talent," Manning said. "It's just part of football. You have good years, you have bad years. His first two years, you go to the AFC Championship games, last year missed the playoffs but they were not far off. So that's what it's about. Every year is not going to be perfect. Every year there are going to be tough times. It's about getting through those tough ones and finding ways to win some close games. You just grind through it. That's all you can do."
Manning's message to Sanchez: Hang in there . . . even as the calls turn increasingly louder for change.