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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Despite Eli Manning's struggles, Pat Shurmur wants him back

Coach says the 15-year veteran still can play winning football as long as there's support from the running game and offensive line.  

Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks on after he

Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks on after he was knocked down after throwing a pass during the fourth quarter against the Titans at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

With Eli Manning’s future once again seeming to hang in the balance after a miserable showing in a 17-0 loss to the Titans, Pat Shurmur offered the kind of support any quarterback – even a two-time Super Bowl MVP – could use at a time like this.

During his Monday news conference, the coach said he wants Manning back next year and that he still believes there are good years – yes, that’s years with an “s” – left in his soon-to-be 38-year-old quarterback.

“I’ve seen him play good football,” Shurmur said, “and I’ve seen how, when we have a coordinated effort of protecting him, and being able to run the ball throughout the game, it helps us.”

Shurmur said he believes “experience matters … When you start talking about roster shaping down the road, you need to learn how to win and the experience of playing through adversity.”

Those comments may bode well for Manning – at least for now – but there is really no definitive indication just yet what the Giants plan to do with him next year. Shurmur didn’t offer a clear-cut answer that Manning will be his 2019 starter. Based on his struggles through the first half of the season and this latest example of an inconsistency that can’t be ignored, my sense is that the organization remains in a wait-and-see mode with Manning’s future.

Wait and see what happens over the final two games against the Colts and Cowboys even though the Giants (5-9) are out of the playoff hunt. Wait and see whether there’s a quarterback available in next year’s draft who might be worth developing long term. Wait and see if there is a quarterback available in the offseason – someone like Nick Foles (Eagles), Derek Carr (Raiders), Joe Flacco (Ravens) or Teddy Bridgewater (Saints).

With the Giants wrapping up yet another losing season – their fifth in the last six years – they have to be extremely careful in their deliberations about what to do at quarterback. Manning is clearly not the player he once was. As long as the running game is successful and helps open up play-action passes, and as long as his protection holds up (because he can’t make plays with his feet), Manning can be serviceable. He proved as much when the Giants went 4-1 after the bye.

But if one or more of those elements breaks down – against the Titans, the running game was nonexistent and the pass protection spotty – he can’t manufacture plays to overcome the weaknesses around him. That’s who Manning is right now, and to pretend otherwise is to ignore the obvious and invite more of the ups and downs we saw this year.

Maybe if the Giants had a dominant defense to mask the sins of the offense, it would be a different story. But this is far from a dominant defense, proven by yet another shoddy performance against the run. The Titans’ Derrick Henry gashed them for 170 yards and two touchdowns on a rainy afternoon when the running game was even more essential than usual. With Saquon Barkley held to 31 yards on 14 carries, Manning couldn’t do much of anything to help.

“Obviously, we didn’t play well enough,” Manning said Monday. “I had some missed opportunities, just had some bad plays, and they played well.”

It’s an all too familiar refrain, not only from this year, but most of the years since Manning last won a Super Bowl. He pulled off his second upset of the Patriots after the 2011 season, getting the better of Tom Brady in the Giants’ 21-17 win at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Manning returns to Indianapolis on Sunday, another reminder of what once was, but no longer can be. Not with a rebuilding team still another year or two – or maybe more – from contending.

“I know I can play, I can make the throws,” he said. “[Sunday], I made some good throws. So it still feels like I can run around and make plays, and do a lot of good things. There was a stretch when we were playing good football, and we’ve just got to get back to it.”

There’s plenty of uncertainty about Eli’s future. He was at least heartened to hear his coach’s words of support.

“Coach has had my back all year,” Manning said. “He’s been great. He believes in me. That makes your job easier, when the coach believes in you. We know we can play better. So, it’s a start.”

The question now: Will Manning be around for the finish?

Eli Manning's statistics in his 15th NFL season place him in the middle of the pack among starting QBs:

COMPLETIONS 331 (9th overall)

YARDS 3,689 (11) 

AVG. YARDS/COMP. 7.3 (22)

COMP. PCT. 65.9 (19, tie)

TDs 18 (20)

INTs 9 (17, tie)

RATING 92.1 (22)

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