Eli Manning took pictures with his three daughters on the field before the game, something he has hardly ever done in the time he’s been a father during his 15-year run with the Giants. He got emotional when asked to explain that connection he’s made with Giants fans over the years. He expressed sincere appreciation for the support that coach Pat Shurmur offered during what has been one of his most difficult seasons.
Hints of sadness at the possibility that he had just played his final game in a Giants uniform? Fleeting moments of realization that his career might be at an end? A window into Manning’s soul as he ponders his football mortality?
With no guarantees about his future as the Giants’ quarterback, Manning was understandably emotional after a gut-wrenching 36-35 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday that completed a 5-11 season. More than anything, he was disappointed that another opportunity at a championship had eluded him and his team, because he knows there aren’t many chances left, if any.
“The losses hurt,” said Manning, who was 24-for-41 for 301 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a lost fumble. “The losses are tough to deal with and are tougher to deal with than in the past, just because you know your opportunities are running low to make the playoffs and make championship runs and those things. When you’re not doing as well as you want to, it’s tougher to handle.”
Manning hasn’t been told what the team’s plans are for him, nor has the soon-to-be 38-year-old quarterback informed the Giants about his intentions for the 2019 season. With that uncertainty as the backdrop, connecting the dots about what might happen took on a greater significance.
The pictures with the kids? He insisted that was done at his wife’s urging. “You ever hear the phrase ‘a happy wife, a happy life?’ ’’ he said. “I think that fits that category.”
But the other stuff, especially the part about his connection with Giants fans, fed into the narrative that he might have played his final game with the team. He grew emotional when he spoke of his affection for the fans and their loyalty to him.
“I think I’ve tried to put all I could into playing quarterback for the Giants and just trying to go out there and do my best every day, compete, be a good teammate,’’ he said. “That’s all you can ask from yourself sometimes.”
He seemed to be on the verge of tears.
He said he did not take a moment to process the idea that this could be it. “No, try not to worry about those things,” he said. “Just enjoy the moment, enjoy playing football, enjoy every aspect of it. Enjoy the situations and enjoy the opportunity to go win a game in a two-minute drive.”
Manning had come close to beating the NFC East champion Cowboys. He gave the Giants their first lead of the game in the fourth quarter at 25-21 and then came back a second time to go up 35-28. But after Dak Prescott threw his fourth touchdown pass of the afternoon and was successful on the two-point conversion pass to make it 36-35 with 1:12 left, Manning couldn’t bring the Giants back one last time.
After a 34-yard kickoff return to the Giants’ 48 by Cody Latimer gave the team excellent field position for a potential game-winning field goal, Manning threw four straight incomplete passes. “We had the opportunity to win it, make a play. Just didn’t,” he said.
If there was one truly valuable thing Manning could take away from the game, it was the support of his coach and teammates.
“I’ve seen the good in Eli, and I believe in the good,” Shurmur said. “I believe everybody around him has to do their job better. I certainly hear things, but I believe in Eli. I feel strongly about Eli.”
Said Saquon Barkley, “The only thing I know is he has a lot of ball left, that this team believes in him.”
Manning values the support. “I appreciate coach Shurmur, everything he’s done, him having my back this whole season,” he said. “I think he’s a great coach. I think he’s the right man for this job.”
Shurmur seems to think Manning is the right quarterback, too.
Which may be the only opinion that matters.