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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Eli Manning’s message to Giants: Be intense without being tense

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham celebrates

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham celebrates his touchdown catch with quarterback Eli Manning in the second half of an NFL game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. Credit: AP / Ron Schwane

The Giants are 8-3 after winning their sixth straight game and will face five potential playoff teams in a season-defining stretch. So how does two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning prepare for what’s ahead?

He channels his inner George Costanza.

Remember the “Seinfeld” episode in which George is so exasperated — “My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be” — that he decides to try a little reverse psychology? First he changes his food order from tuna on toast to chicken salad on rye — untoasted. Then he strikes up a conversation with an attractive woman at the lunch counter.

“My name is George. I’m unemployed, and I live with my parents.” The woman replies, “I’m Victoria, hi.” And so begins an unlikely romance.

So how does Manning — an avowed “Seinfeld’’ fan — channel his opposite? Well, now that the Giants are in prime position for a playoff run, the 35-year-old quarterback offers counterintuitive advice to teammates, the overwhelming majority of whom never have been to the playoffs. The Giants had 22 players in uniform Sunday with no more than three years’ experience, and veterans Janoris Jenkins and Rashad Jennings never have been near a playoff berth.

“When you get in important games, must-have wins, you’ve got to make sure you stay loose,” Manning said Monday on WFAN. “Sometimes you have to do the opposite of what you think. You think big game, get serious, get tense, don’t have any fun. Sometimes it’s the opposite. Got to stay loose and calm and be yourself and don’t get so nervous and think it’s so important that all of a sudden, you’re running stiff and not making plays. We have some veterans who understand that. I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Manning is the ultimate example of doing the opposite in this type of situation. He has earned his reputation as a championship quarterback by producing some of the most clutch playoff performances in NFL history. He led the Giants to Super Bowl wins after the 2007 and 2011 seasons, winning MVP honors in each of the two games.

The Giants will look to their leader for cues as they begin a pivotal stretch that will determine whether they earn their first playoff berth since 2011 or fizzle out. After Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, they will host the Cowboys and Lions, then visit the Eagles and Redskins.

Manning thinks the Giants are ready to make a run. “We’ve responded to different types of games, being down in the fourth quarter, having leads and having to hold on to them,” he said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games. That prepares you for end-of-the-season playoff-type games, because they’re going to be close. It’s going to come down to the fourth quarter. Can you raise your level of play at crucial times? We’ve been in those situations and we’ve raised the level. I think it’s a great quality to have. We have to keep that mentality.”

But to reach Super Bowl LI, the Giants must raise their play significantly. Yes, they’ve won six straight, but only one of those opponents, the Ravens, currently has a winning record. Four of their next five opponents have winning records, and the Eagles (5-6) aren’t much worse than that. So the Giants can’t get away with the mistakes — especially on offense — they’ve been making.

“We’re going to rely on our veterans to lead,” Ben McAdoo said. “It’s important this time of year that the players spend time together talking about their football and getting our football right. We need to be mentally dialed in on our preparation.’’

It starts with Eli.

“We look forward to these environments, going against good teams,” Manning said. “That’s what we have to be ready for.”

The Giants have stacked together enough wins to get in this position. Now it’s up to them to take advantage so they won’t have to lament what might have been.


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