Considering all the circumstances — from the Giants’ 2-13 record to the stunning move to bench Eli Manning earlier this month to the fact that he will turn 37 Wednesday — this felt very much as if it could be Manning’s last game in a Giants uniform.
But if newly hired general manager Dave Gettleman stands by what he said in his introductory news conference Friday, there might be more football ahead for Manning at MetLife Stadium beyond Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Redskins.
The uncertainty surrounding Manning has been palpable, especially after the misguided decision by since-deposed coach Ben McAdoo to get a look at Geno Smith and thus end Manning’s streak at 210 starts. There are no guarantees that Gettleman won’t change his mind between now and the start of next season — or the draft — and decide to move on from Manning. But he sounded very much like a man who believes there is more good football ahead for the quarterback beyond his 14th NFL season.
It will depend on what Gettleman, 66, and his scouting staff like to call “the eye in the sky” — or game video.
“In regards to Eli, the bottom line is I’m an inveterate film- watcher,” Gettleman said. “That’s what I do, OK? I haven’t had access to tape, but obviously, you got to look at the film. You got to see what’s cooking. And listen, Eli has won a lot of games. He’s a great competitor. He’s very intelligent. If what I saw [against] Philadelphia was not a mirage — and I don’t believe it was — then we’ll just keep moving.”
What Gettleman saw — and what the rest of us saw — was vintage Manning. He carved up the Eagles’ defense for 434 yards and three touchdown passes in a 34-29 loss Dec. 17, looking like the Manning of old and not the quarterback who has struggled for much of the past two seasons. Gettleman is willing to view that game as an indicator of what Manning remains capable of doing, not an aberration. The GM therefore is willing — for now, anyway — to view Manning as the likely starter in 2018.
That no doubt would make Manning happy. He has consistently expressed a preference to continue playing, and to continue playing for the Giants. What should make him even happier is Gettleman’s commitment to rebuilding the offensive line, whose failings have been front-and-center on an offense that has been mostly brutal since McAdoo took over as coach before the 2016 season.
Gettleman likes to use the term “hog molly” to describe the kind of player he looks for on the offensive line (and the defensive line, for that matter). It’s a term he first heard in the 1980s from former Bills scout George Sengal, a reference to the northern hog sucker fish, which often fights against the current in fast-moving streams. In other words, the fish must use its brute strength to survive.
Combine that with the advice Tom Coughlin gave him when the two worked with the Giants, and Gettleman’s belief in being big and strong up front continues to resonate.
“Tom Coughlin said it to me his first year when he came in here [in 2004],” Gettleman said. “He said big men allow you go compete, and that’s really just so true. The O-line and the D-line. I believe in the hog mollies. We’ve had some great groups here, great groups everywhere I’ve been, and we’re going to get back to that. They do allow you to compete.”
Manning was at his best when the Giants had plenty of hog mollies. The 2007 and 2011 offensive lines featured players such as center Shaun O’Hara, guard/tackle David Diehl, guards Chris Snee and Rich Seubert and tackle Kareem McKenzie, not to mention defensive linemen Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
The faster Gettleman can restock the lines, especially on offense, the better for Manning, who has been consistently beset by poor protection and an inadequate running game since the Giants’ last Super Bowl run.
The new GM wasted no time reshaping the line, releasing right tackle Bobby Hart on Saturday, announcing that left tackle Ereck Flowers will sit out Sunday because of a groin injury, and promoting offensive linemen Adam Bisnowaty and Nick Becton from the practice squad. It may be too late to turn things around this season, but Gettleman has sent an unmistakable message heading into 2018 that he means business.
In the meantime, Manning will be under center again Sunday, finishing out a season that turned into a lost cause after starting with such promise. Even if it isn’t his last game with the Giants, he’ll treat it as such.
“I think in football, you never know when your last game is going to be,” he said. “It’s a physical game, so you always treat it like it’s your last.”
He still laments the lost opportunity that the 2017 season represented.
“I thought we were kind of getting there a little bit after the first couple games, kind of got Odell [Beckham Jr.] back and kind of got everybody in their spots and were playing some pretty good games in the third, fourth, fifth week and then kind of hit the injury bug and some guys were going down,” he said. “We just had to rally and find different ways to play and move guys around, get guys comfortable. Just not consistent. We’ve had some games we’ve done OK; just haven’t scored enough points.”
Manning will be backed up for the first time by rookie Davis Webb, who will play only if the game is out of hand one way or the other. It’s uncertain whether the Giants view Webb as their quarterback of the future, and there’s still a good chance that Gettleman will use a top-two or top-three pick on a quarterback, even with his show of support for Manning.
“I don’t care what position it is,” Gettleman said, “you can never have too many great players at one position. Let’s see where we end up and which pick we have and we’ll go from there.”
Either way, it looks as if Manning still has a future with the Giants.