He had been the Giants’ starter for nearly 15 full seasons – 5,411 days, minus that one-week debacle in 2017 – so yes, this has been a discouraging and emotional time for Eli Manning.
"It is difficult, especially when you’ve been the starter for so long and you’re not really accustomed to preparing and putting it to use in that sense,” Manning said Wednesday.
Manning is back as the Giants’ starter, but only because of an ankle injury to rookie Daniel Jones. And while Jones hasn’t been ruled out of Monday night’s game in Philadelphia, coach Pat Shurmur called it “very likely” that Manning would play. At 38 years old and having been benched by Shurmur after just two games this season, Manning is itching to play again, even if it won’t be for long.
“You’re always eager to play,” he said. “That’s why you play. That’s why you compete, and you work out and everything. You go out there and compete on game day and get wins and put your team in a situation to win. When you’re not doing it, you miss it. You’re excited about the competitive part of it.”
Manning understands his playing time will be limited – it could be only one game, and keep in mind that Jones hasn’t been definitively ruled out of Monday’s game. But he will approach things with the kind of professionalism that has been the hallmark of his career, even if he is in the uncomfortable position of playing the understudy to the Giants’ quarterback of the future.
Bottom line: This could very well be Manning’s final NFL start.
“Business as usual in the sense of getting the game plan, start prepping for Philly, going against a good defense, but also a defense we’ve faced for a number of years and know 'em well,” Manning said. “Just got to get back into the mix with the offensive line and receivers and make sure timing is where it needs to be. I think just having a lot of experience and knowing the offense and knowing that I can pop in there and be ready to go [will help].”
Manning faded into the background when Jones got the call before a Week 3 game against the Buccaneers and has given Jones plenty of room to spread his wings. It was important that Manning not cast a shadow on the rookie quarterback, and he remained in the shadows while doing what he could to assist Jones in the nuances of the game.
At the same time, he had to be ready to play, knowing that he was only one injury away from getting back in the lineup. Manning has never missed a game to injury, while Jones’ streak will likely end at just 75 days.
“It was a little different, just trying to adjust to it, always being prepared to go, trying to get Daniel as prepared as possible each week,” he said. “I’ve faced a lot of the teams that we’ve been playing and just looking through old notes and find little tips that we’ve had on trying to diagnose defenses, but also getting myself ready to play each week.”
Manning said he hasn’t thought about what lies ahead and won’t speculate whether this will be his final game with the team that traded for him on draft day in 2004. The team for which he won two Super Bowl titles and carved out a career likely good enough for the Hall of Fame.
“Try to take it one game at a time, and you never want to try to make decisions about your future while you’re still living in the present,” he said. “Don’t know the circumstances of what could happen. Just got to go out there and try to get a win for the Giants if I’m asked to do that. I’ll analyze everything else after the season.”
It is extraordinarily unlikely he’ll be back in New York next season, and my sense is he’ll take some time away from the game like older brother Peyton did after his final season in Denver and call it a career. In a league where young quarterbacks are in relatively good supply, there simply may not be an opportunity for a soon-to-be 39-year-old starter whose play has declined in recent years.
So, this could very well be it for Manning – whether it be Monday night, or the following week at MetLife Stadium against the Dolphins, or even the remainder of the season.
Get a good look. It may be the last time you see No. 10 in a Giants uniform.