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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Clock is ticking on Eli Manning's time as Giants' starting quarterback

Eli Manning of the Giants looks on after

Eli Manning of the Giants looks on after throwing interception late during the fourth quarter against the Bills at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Giants are 0-2 for the sixth time in the last seven seasons, the offense has produced a combined 31 points, and Eli Manning is off to a sluggish start.

Which means the clock is ticking even louder on if (or is it when?) Pat Shurmur will make the only major decision that remains on a team that seems headed for nowhere again.

But even after a listless 28-14 loss to the Bills in the Giants’ home opener, that time has not yet arrived.

“I don’t think that’s a conversation for right now,” Shurmur said about whether he’s considering replacing Manning with rookie Daniel Jones. “I think we’ve got to look at how our team played, and we’ve just got to take steps to get better in all areas. I think everybody’s got to play better.”

No argument there. Everyone does have to play better, including a defense that gave up 388 total yards Sunday and 494 in Week 1, an offensive line that provided spotty pass protection, and Manning himself.

But we all know the drill here. Regardless of how many problems a football team has and how many explanations are used to rationalize them, the quarterback invariably is the greatest focus. And with the No. 6 overall pick standing on the sideline with a headset and no helmet, that scrutiny becomes even more intense.

You know it. I know it.

Manning knows it.

I asked if he feels added pressure because of it. “When you’re 0-2, there’s pressure on everybody,” he said. “That’s just the way it goes.''

He said he can’t let it get to him. “You can’t have that affect you,'' he said. "You can’t let that change the way you prepare, the way you play. I got to make better throws and better decisions and find ways to convert on third downs. That’s a quarterback’s job.”

Manning didn’t do his job well, although a case certainly can be made that he didn’t have much help. He was playing with a patchwork group of receivers after the loss of Sterling Shepard (concussion), the PED suspension of Golden Tate and the trade of Odell Beckham Jr. But there were plays to be made against the Bills, and Manning didn’t make enough of them. A handful of passes were batted down, including one that was intercepted. A deep throw to Bennie Fowler Jr. down the right sideline was dropped after a hard hit — not Manning’s fault, of course.

Manning was 26-for-45 for 250 yards, with two interceptions and a touchdown pass on a terrific throw in the back of the end zone to TJ Jones, who joined the team this week as an emergency fill-in.

Coming into the season, the Giants’ best-case scenario with Manning was that they’d remain competitive enough with him running the offense to bring Jones along slowly, similar to the way the Chiefs brought along Patrick Mahomes in his rookie season as Alex Smith’s backup. But that was a playoff team in 2017, and the Giants are not that. Their roster has been weakened by the banishment of several veterans who have been replaced by younger, untested players brought in by general manager Dave Gettleman.

Time is no longer a luxury. The more the Giants lose, the less they can justify keeping Jones under wraps and not getting him meaningful playing time as a rookie.

Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms says the transition will be smooth if and when the change is made. “When you look at Daniel Jones, that offense is ready for him right now. That running game, Saquon Barkley, the offensive line is protecting,” he said on the CBS postgame show. “I think this transition to Daniel Jones on the offensive side is going to be pretty easy.”

But Shurmur doesn’t believe the time is right to make a change, and Manning still draws support from the locker room.

“We don’t have concern for Eli,” Barkley said. “I think he’s doing a tremendous job, leading us, being a great quarterback, being a great teammate. We just have to help him out. We have to find a way to win games. If we’re able to do that, then the concerns and the questions will go away.”

But if they don’t start to win soon, the concerns will only grow and Shurmur will be left with no justification for standing by a 38-year-old quarterback on a rebuilding team.

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