It’s easy to take Eli Manning for granted. Maybe now more than ever.
With all of the controversy swirling around a 1-8 season that no one saw coming, Manning is far down on the list of major reasons this has turned into a lost season for the Giants that could take Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese — and perhaps even Manning himself — down with it.
Through good times and bad — and this year easily qualifies as the worst in his 14-season run as the Giants’ quarterback — Manning has been as unflappable as ever. And while he alone hasn’t been capable of overcoming all the chaos around him, his performance and exemplary demeanor through one of the biggest abominations in franchise history should not go unnoticed.
At 36 and with the window of opportunity to add a third Super Bowl ring closing, uncertainty clouds his future with the Giants. Even though he continues to steadfastly hope he can end his career with the same team with which he began it, there are no guarantees. Not when the Giants are virtually certain to have a high draft pick in the spring of 2018. Not when there is a very real possibility that they will select a blue-chip college passer as its quarterback of the future.
Life moves fast in the NFL these days, and even a player of Manning’s stature isn’t assured of anything. After all, if older brother Peyton saw his dreams of finishing his career with the Colts evaporate after he missed a season with a neck injury, certainly Eli understands that he’ll have his day of reckoning too.
But that day should not come right away. In fact, even if the Giants do take advantage of the rare opportunity to draft a quarterback such as Josh Rosen of UCLA, Sam Darnold of USC or Heisman Trophy favorite Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma, Manning has earned the right to remain the Giants’ quarterback for at least the next year or two.
While this season is a lost cause, there will be enough talent on next year’s team for a successful reboot, particularly on offense, where the Giants will bring back a healthy Odell Beckham Jr., a much-improved Sterling Shepard and a young tight end in Evan Engram who has quickly developed into a terrific player with a tremendous future.
Manning will continue to be the best option in the near term to lead that offense, and if he has shown anything this year, it has been a remarkable consistency in the fact of myriad injuries around him and a pitiful defense that has been the root cause of the Giants’ meltdown.
Has he been perfect? Of course not. Manning has missed a handful of game-changing throws. There were two against the Rams that might have made a difference in what turned out to be a 51-17 loss. And he has had some killer fumbles, most recently last week, when he was driving for a potential touchdown in a 31-21 loss to the previously winless 49ers.
But for the most part, his play has been good enough, to the point that a capable defense would have meant a vastly different outcome in a season that went south from the start. In fact, his numbers in some cases are better than at any other time in his career. His 64.6 percent completion rate is his highest ever and his 1.8 percent interception rate is his lowest. And that’s in a season in which he hasn’t had his best receiver since Beckham suffered a fractured ankle in Week 5.
The most impressive part of Manning’s game is the fact that he continues to show up week-in and week-out. In Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, he will make his 209th straight start to move into second place on the NFL’s all-time list of consecutive starts by a quarterback. He’ll move past Peyton, although he might not have much of a chance at equaling Brett Favre’s remarkable ironman streak of 297 straight starts.
It’s a remarkable achievement, but in keeping with just how underappreciated Eli sometimes is, he wasn’t asked a single question about it during his media availability this past week. Perhaps the way he pooh-poohed the number the previous week, combined with the continued scrutiny of McAdoo, turned the conversation in other directions.
“I’m happy to go out there each and every week with my teammates,” he said in the run-up to last Sunday’s game, in which he tied Peyton. “That’s a goal of mine, to stay healthy, to play through injuries, to be accountable. It’s important to me to be there for my team and my teammates, but it’s not about breaking a record.”
This week’s mentality?
“Go win the next game,” he said. “Same mindset as every week. We’re hungry to get that win. Guys are flying around [in practice], and we’ll go out there and give good effort and go win the game.”
That’s about as close to a guarantee as Manning will ever deliver, but it’s emblematic of a relentlessly positive attitude that has carried him through a remarkable career. He will achieve one more milestone on Sunday in a run that eventually could put him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It’s a time for even the most disconsolate Giants fan trudging through a lost season to stop and offer gratitude for a player whose career is among the most inspiring in franchise history. With no guarantees about Manning’s future with the team that staked its reputation on him 13 years ago, it’s best to appreciate his legacy while there’s still time.
THE BOOK ON ELI
QB rating 88.615
Comp. pct. 64.617