This will do for a tidy symbol of Eli Manning’s season — and the current state of his career:
Less than two minutes remained in Sunday’s game against the Titans at MetLife Stadium, and the Giants were driving for a garbage-time score to avoid a shutout and salvage some dignity.
It was fourth-and-goal at the 4-yard line. Evan Engram was headed for the right back corner of the end zone, and he briefly was open. Manning lofted a pass in his direction.
And it hit Titans safety Kevin Byard in the back.
“I have to get it out there,” Manning said after the Titans won, 17-0. “Bad throw. Bad throw on me. You’ve got to get the ball and get turned and get it up and down before he runs out of bounds. Just a poor throw by me on that one.”
The question the Giants must answer this offseason is how many poor throws they are willing to live with from their quarterback, who will turn 38 in two weeks and gobbles up a large chunk of their salary cap.
Early this season, it appeared certain that it was time to move on from the two-time Super Bowl MVP. Then a midseason resurgence had people talking about Manning being the starter again in 2019.
On Sunday morning, former Giants quarterback and CBS analyst Phil Simms called it an “absolute guarantee” that Manning will be the starter next season. He added that he thinks he has a chance to start in 2020, too.
During Manning’s decline over the past couple of seasons, the point never has been that the man no longer is a functional NFL quarterback, fully capable of some good games and plays. He had plenty of positive moments in late autumn as the line improved and running back Saquon Barkley became the focal point of the offense.
Then it all fell apart on Sunday, with Odell Beckham Jr. sidelined by a quadriceps injury, the rainy weather dampening both teams’ passing attacks and the Titans shutting down Barkley.
Manning completed 21 of 44 for 229 yards, one interception and one lost fumble. The interception, by Byard, came on a third-and-20 from the Tennessee 29 early in the third quarter.
“He just must have had a bead on it and really jumped it,” Manning said. “He has that half of the field high, and he must have just read it and was able to jump in and make the play.”
The fumble came on the Giants’ next possession, on a third-and-10 from their 17. Kamalei Correa stripped the ball, which was recovered by Jurrell Casey at the 14-yard line, setting up the Titans’ second touchdown.
“Right there, backed up, just hold on to the ball,” Manning said. “Take a sack or do whatever you have to. You can’t turn it over and give them that good field position.”
On an earlier overthrow of Engram, Manning said the ball “just kind of came out of my hand funny. Sometimes those short little throws where you throw in a different motion when you get a wet ball, it just popped out.”
With rookie Kyle Lauletta having been demoted from second to third string, it appears unlikely that anyone other than Manning will start against the Colts or Cowboys in the final two weeks as he completes the 13th of his 15 NFL seasons not to include a playoff victory.
The fact that the other two included four playoff wins apiece is forever a part of his legacy, but legacies do not keep fans warm and cuddly when it is mid-December and they do not get to see the home team score a point.
By the time he hit Byard in the back on that final, ill-fated throw to Engram, only a few thousand soggy stragglers remained. Come Dec. 30, many of those empty seats will be filled by Cowboys fans.
The question for the Giants fans who show up will be whether it is to bid Manning adieu, or whether they will be forced to go into yet another offseason with fingers crossed that he is better than what he showed on Sunday.