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Eli Manning slogging his way through new playbook

Giants quarterback Eli Manning gets up off the

Giants quarterback Eli Manning gets up off the turf after being sacked by the Jets in the first quarter of a preseason NFL game, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: AP / Bill Kostroun

It is a measure of just how fitful the Giants’ offense has been this summer that progress is now measured by a nice two-minute drive at the end of the half of an exhibition game.

Think about that for a moment: You have a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback going into his 11th NFL season, and he is now reduced to looking for his glass-half-full moment in the fourth preseason game against a Jets team that usually serves as a nice warm-up act for the start of the regular season.

But that’s where Eli Manning and his offense are right now, slogging their way through first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s playbook and looking as if they’ll be lucky to score more than 20 points on any given Sunday. Against the Jets, progress was measured by the only touchdown for the first-team offense. And just the third in four games.

Oh, it was a nice drive, all right. And Manning finally started to look like a functional NFL quarterback for the first time during the preseason. But let’s face it; for a quarterback who measures his production by the number of Super Bowls he wins, this back-to-basics stuff is downright disconcerting with the regular season looming just over two weeks from now.

“It’s definitely a sign of progress,” Manning said after the Giants’ 35-24 win over the Jets, in which the first-team offense was outscored 10-7 in the first half. “We converted. We ran good routes. We got completions. We got a pretty good rhythm and everything worked. Instead of always having something go wrong, instead of a penalty or a sack, something to back us up and keep us from sustaining drives, we were able to stay out of harm’s way.”

Manning has always been comfortable in the two-minute drive, with two of his signature moments coming in this spot. He won Super Bowl XLII in the final moments against the Patriots, and beat New England again in Super Bowl XLVII with a dramatic late-game comeback. So maybe he can build on this latest two-minute success, albeit one that occurred in far less climactic circumstances than his two championship moments.

“It’s fun to throw touchdowns and get something going,” he said. “We’ve been good in the two-minute drive here in the past, and it’s good to know we still have that. If we can score before the half or score at the end of games, that’s a momentum for the team. And if you get in those situations where you can come out of it with points, it’s a good thing.”

Manning was mostly solid on the drive, finding Victor Cruz on a 16-yard route down the left side at the Giants’ 39, hitting Cruz again on an 18-yard pattern down the left side and eventually throwing a beautifully-timed 15-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle to pull the Giants to within a field goal. But there was near calamity as well; Manning threw what appeared to be an interception by forcing the ball to Cruz at midfield.

Kyle Wilson stepped in front of Cruz to make the interception, but a replay review showed Wilson had stepped out of bounds and failed to re-establish himself in bounds before making the catch. The ball was returned to the Giants, and Manning went on to finish off the confidence-building drive.

“It put the score at 10-7, but it also gave us the idea that we could move the ball in the two-minute mode,” coach Tom Coughlin said.

There was a sigh of relief from others, too.

“I wish it could have come a little earlier, but in typical Eli fashion, we get a two-minute drill and we get it done,” Cruz said. “We started out a little rough, but once we got the ball rolling, we were able to put some first downs together.”

Baby steps for now. But plenty of improvement is needed if this offense is going to compete when the regular season begins in the Monday night opener in Detroit.

“There was progress, but it’s not where it needs to be,” Manning conceded. “It will get better and hopefully it will be better for that opening game. But it’s not going to be complete at that point. We’re going to have to make improvements throughout the whole season.”

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