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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Eli takes blame but explains situation, too

Giants quarterback Eli Manning takes questions during a

Giants quarterback Eli Manning takes questions during a press conference at the Giants training complex in East Rutherford, N.J., where he addressed the season's end, Monday. (Jan. 3, 2011) Credit: Craig Ruttle

From the first day of training camp to the final day of the season, Eli Manning seldom allows a glimpse into his innermost thoughts about what it is to be the Giants' quarterback.

Oh, he'll talk to you as long as you like, and he's as polite and as conversational as you'd ever want while standing in front of his locker until the last reporter asks his or her final question. It's just that he very rarely offers any thoughts to surface from beneath the veneer of his emotions.

And the one thing he'll never, ever, ever do is offer excuses for poor play. Not about himself or those around him. Where some players are quick to assign blame elsewhere when things go wrong, he will never hang his teammates or coaches out to dry.

But at least for a brief moment yesterday, Manning peeled back the layers and offered some intriguing perspective on his struggles this year. A day after completing a 10-6 season with a career-high 25 interceptions, he indeed shouldered the blame for that disturbing statistic. But he also pulled back the curtain for one of the only times in his career and explained the factors at play in a season that at times was brilliant and occasionally was disastrous.

Maybe it was a birthday present to himself. Yesterday, Manning turned 30.

First things first, though. He took most of the blame.

"I put a lot on my shoulders and I have to get better," he said. "I'm not a 25-interception quarterback. I think obviously that's got to be fixed. We have to fix that. That's on me, the receivers and everybody doing that, but most of it's on me."

Manning did have some awfully positive numbers - a career- high 31 touchdown passes, his second consecutive season with more than 4,000 passing yards and a career-high 62.9 completion percentage. But the turnovers were the killers.

He admitted for the first time Monday that all the injuries to the receivers - including starters Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks, and don't forget the offseason injury to Domenik Hixon - did take a toll. After refusing to blame anyone but himself for the interceptions, even the ones off tipped balls that should have been caught by his receivers, Manning conceded it all caught up to him in the end.

"Obviously, it affects your game plan," he said. "You're trying to move receivers around, and it's tough. Steve Smith was our slot guy. He has a great feel and he's been doing it for four years, and that's kind of what you practice. You keep working with him, and then all of a sudden you lose a guy like him. You bring in Derek Hagan, and he's playing the slot, he does a great job, but hey, let's mix it up and put [Mario] Manningham in the slot some. Let's put Hakeem in there.

"On paper, you kind of draw it up and you think they know what they're doing, but all of a sudden, you get to rep it one or two times in practice, but a game comes up and you get different coverage and you have a little pressure and you have to move around and your timing is just off," he said. "Obviously, injuries are part of it and you have to adjust sometimes, but we just kind of had a roller coaster of different receivers in and out."

This was no indictment of his receivers but a rare moment in which Manning could freely admit that his own struggles were not created in a vacuum, but in part by the circumstances around him. Injuries to his receivers, as well as injuries to an offensive line that nevertheless did a remarkable job in allowing only 16 sacks, contributed to his struggles.

But with a good six or seven years left in his prime, and two years into a $97.5-million contract extension, there still is upside left for Manning and a young corps of receivers that will only get better with time.

Manning plans to use that time to prove he's no 25-interception quarterback.

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