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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Justin Pugh fires back at Eli Manning's critics

New York Giants tackle Justin Pugh takes a

New York Giants tackle Justin Pugh takes a drink during training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015. Credit: Brad Penner

Eli Manning fell on his sword one last time before moving on to the Falcons, standing in front of his locker Wednesday and taking the blame -- again -- for the late-game meltdown in Sunday night's 27-26 loss to Dallas.

"The intentions were right. Just got to get my stats and facts and timeouts on the same page,'' the quarterback said of the botched ending, when he told running back Rashad Jennings not to try to score on first and second down after the Giants neared the goal line with a three-point lead with 1:54 left.

"I wanted to score a touchdown,'' Manning said. "That was the goal. I wanted to run as much clock [as possible].''

Manning always has been the most accountable man in the Giants' locker room since he got there in 2004, and this week was no exception. Despite the torrent of criticism thrown his way -- including a picture on the back page of a New York tabloid in which a dunce cap was superimposed on his helmet -- Easy Eli was back at it as if nothing had happened. It's a hallmark of his personality, an uncanny ability to refocus on what lies ahead, regardless of the previous result.

"I think you treat each week the same,'' he said. "That's part of being professional, being a quarterback. Doesn't matter if you had the best game of your life or the worst game. You come in the next week, set up and try to get prepared for the next team and the next game plan.''

But if Manning wasn't willing to show much emotion or frustration over his clear mishandling of the situation, he drew plenty of support inside his locker room, where he remains the unquestioned leader. One player made a particularly impassioned defense of Manning, and he offered an unequivocal response to those ripping him: Back off.

Asked if the criticism angered him, guard Justin Pugh said, "Yeah. I mean, that's my quarterback. He put it on his back because he wants to get it off everyone else. I feel bad that he's taken the heat for it. He's our leader, and he made so many good plays to put us in that position in the game in the first place. So to see a picture like that, that's disrespectful. Everyone in this locker room has got his back.

"I know every other team in the NFL would take Eli Manning as their quarterback. That's how I feel about it. It's crazy. We're going to win a lot more games with him than anyone else.''

Odell Beckham Jr. didn't defend Manning as stridently, but he stressed Eli has unconditional support from teammates.

"He can't accept all the blame. There were plays that could have been made,'' Beckham said. "We should never have put ourselves in that position. Being a leader and being able to step up and take the blame is tremendous character on his part, even though you can't sit there and let him take all the blame. I feel like it's my fault as well, along with everyone else.''

Here's the thing about Manning: No matter how intense the scrutiny, he really does have the perfect mentality for a quarterback. He's able to block it out and move on. It's not a put-on. He compartmentalizes his emotions as well as any athlete I've ever seen, and like a great pitcher after a horrendous outing, he bounces back in his next start. It doesn't guarantee he'll win, but it does mean that what happened won't be a deterrent in the next game.

"There's going to be good games and bad games. It's all about moving on to the next one,'' Manning said. "You've got to learn from every game.''

And not overreact to criticism. Manning said he didn't even see the picture of himself wearing a dunce cap.

"I wasn't looking at many papers yesterday,'' he said. "I kind of figured they might be coming after me. I missed it, sorry.''

Pugh didn't miss it.

"He's never thrown a teammate under the bus, and he never will,'' he said. "That's not the type of guy he is. But the whole city wants to try to throw him under the bus. It's kind of crazy.''

It's part of the territory, and Manning knows it and accepts it. But there's no time to dwell on the past, even if others won't let it go. There's another game to play on Sunday.

On to the Falcons . . .

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