LANDOVER, Md. - Eli Manning was on the sideline late in Thursday night's 45-14 win over Washington when Frank Mara told him the news about Derek Jeter's dramatic walk-off single in his final game at Yankee Stadium. Manning smiled.
"That's very Jeter-like. Sounds about right," Manning said after he put on his own dramatic performance against Washington, throwing four touchdown passes and running for another to help the Giants improve to 2-2. "He's always been clutch and steps up in big moments, and no doubt he would be put in that situation, he would come through again."
It will be only a few more days before the torch passes from Jeter to Manning, leaving the Giants quarterback as the remaining iconic figure in the New York sports scene. Manning will take the lessons he learned from the Yankees' captain, and will no doubt appreciate all the incredible moments such as the one Thursday night at the Stadium. Manning will also do his part to try and continue the legacy left behind by Jeter, including the part about proving the skeptics wrong late in his career and persevering through the moments when the doubts were greatest.
"I've taken a lot of lessons from Derek and just how he's handled a lot of things," Manning said. "How he deals with the media, how he's perceived by fans. He works hard, his commitment to his sport, to his craft, being a good teammate, being a good leader. I've tried to watch him and learn from him and he's definitely been a role model for me my first 10 years, and will continue to be."
Like Jeter, who at times prompted questions about whether his game was suffering toward the end of his career, Manning comes off the biggest slump of his career in 2013, when he threw a career-high 27 interceptions and had more than a few experts wondering if he had topped out at age 33. Fueling the concern was his inability to quickly adapt to the West Coast offense brought in by first-year coordinator Ben McAdoo. It didn't help that Manning threw two third-quarter interceptions in a season-opening loss to the Lions.
But in his last three games, Manning has trended decidedly positive; even in a 25-14 Week 2 loss to the Cardinals, there were signs the light was starting to come on. Then there was Sunday's 30-17 win over the Texans, when Manning looked much more comfortable. And then Thursday night, against an admittedly injury-ravaged Washington defense, Manning looked at the top of his game.
He was exceptional in the first half, 20-for-24 with three touchdowns, all to second-year tight end Larry Donnell. The Giants were up 24-7 by halftime, thanks to some terrific work on the defensive side, but mostly to Manning's nearly flawless performance in running the offense.
By early in the fourth quarter, the Giants' lead had swelled to 38-14, thanks to another Manning touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Fells and then a rare rushing touchdown for the quarterback, his first since the 2011 season.
Giants fans can breathe easier for now, knowing that Manning can run this new offense the way he once did the old system during the halcyon days of the Kevin Gilbride era. There were two Super Bowl championships during that run, powered by Manning's mostly positive performances. And though it is far too soon to pronounce Manning and his offense fit to win another championship, it is safe to say that the Giants are at least capable of being a functional enough team to make a playoff run as long as long as Manning continues to play at a high level.
And with only one more weekend left to Jeter's career, Manning inherits a difficult challenge as New York's lone iconic pro athlete.
"I will follow that style of being an athlete in New York City that [Jeter] has set," Manning said. "It'll be tough to emulate him. There's no way you can do it. But you can try. He definitely set the bar for athletes in New York City."
With two Super Bowl MVP titles, Manning has set his own bar pretty high. He'd like to believe those highlights won't be his last.