LANDOVER, Md. - There have been frustrating times in Eli Manning’s career, games that have tested his patience and challenged his resolve. But rarely have we seen the Giants’ 36-year-old quarterback this disheartened after a loss, another indication of just how badly this season has gone and how frustrated a quarterback with his accomplishments has become.
Not long after his latest showing in a demoralizing 20-10 loss to the Redskins on Thursday night, a game in which Manning’s offense scored only three points, he spoke barely above a whisper and acknowledged that it’s getting to him.
With the Giants at 2-9, even the relentlessly optimistic Manning said this is all starting to tire him out emotionally.
“Yeah, it definitely does,” he said. “It’s no fun losing. It’s no fun not scoring enough points offensively, so yeah, it can wear you out. It can test you.”
A season that began with such high expectations, even talk of a Super Bowl run, has devolved to the point that even Manning — whose can-do attitude has been as big a part of his game as the clutch throws he has made — no longer is able to see through a season-long malaise and find any hope.
He knows he has played a big role in the sometimes mystifying offensive slump that has been at the heart of a demoralizing season. He knows he was at fault as much as anyone in this particular game. He was only 13-for-27 for 113 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. It was his lowest yardage total since late in the 2007 season, the year he won his first Super Bowl championship.
Manning was off and he knew it. He missed what would have been a touchdown pass to Shane Vereen on a screen deep in Redskins territory in the first half. He threw a third-down pass too low for rookie Travis Rudolph on a play the Giants desperately needed in the fourth quarter. He was victimized by several dropped passes, including three by rookie tight end Evan Engram, and he was chased consistently and sacked four times by a Redskins pass rush that was aided greatly by the Giants’ injury-plagued offensive line.
Manning took this one personally. “I think everybody takes it personally,” he said. “Losing a football game, you feel bad. You obviously think about plays you could have made that would have made the difference. It’s tough.”
He acknowledged that the constant lineup shuffling, due in large part to an assortment of injuries at almost every position except his own, has caught up to the team. And to him.
“Lost a lot of players,” he said. “Missing our three starting receivers [Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard] for a lot of the season, and getting some new guys in. Missing some of our key players on offense. It’s just tough to catch up and make some of those plays [because of] the playmakers we lost.”
The margin of error is razor- thin, and Manning simply has not been able to overcome it.
“You can’t afford to have missed throws on third downs or have drops or miscommunication,” he said. “We’re only going to get so many opportunities to make some plays and we have to make them. We need to play better than what we’re playing.”
Less than a week after an emotional 12-9 overtime win over the Chiefs in which Manning set up the winning field goal with a 34-yard completion in overtime, he looked drained after yet another punchless offensive performance.
“Every time you get the ball, you can get something going, you can make some plays, hit a pass or hit a play-action, get something going,” he said. “We just needed one first down to get a little momentum. We just weren’t getting that first down.”
Manning knows his run as the Giants’ quarterback will end someday, and he so desperately wants to continue with the team he joined in 2004 and with which he produced so many great moments in the course of his career.
He wasn’t thinking about that end after this dispiriting loss, and he surely will gather himself after a few days’ rest and be optimistic about what lies ahead — even if the Giants are playing for pride and little else.
But this one got to him more than most, and perhaps more than any other. For the first time in a long time — maybe ever — Manning sounded defeated.