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Can Eli Manning still be the answer at quarterback for the Giants?

He's 37, immobile and working behind a weak offensive line.

Jaylon Smith of the Cowboys brings down Eli

Jaylon Smith of the Cowboys brings down Eli Manning during Week 2 win.  Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tom Pennington

ARLINGTON, Texas

The only good thing about Eli Manning’s bad Sunday night was that it followed Sam Darnold’s bad Sunday afternoon.

That (partly) spared us what already is a tiresome debate about whether the Giants should have drafted a quarterback in the first round in April.

(For the record, it said here, says here and will continue to say here that they should have, unless they really, deeply, truly disliked all the ones on the menu.)

Instead, the focus can and should remain on the present and future, not the irretrievable past, and Manning is front-row center in a bleak picture.

Was a 20-13 loss to the Cowboys in which the offense was an embarrassment entirely his fault? Of course not.

Problem No. 1 for No. 10 remains a weak line, one that lost its center, Jon Halapio, to a serious leg injury.

Odell Beckham Jr. tried to overcome extra attention from the Cowboys and could not. His receiver buddies tried to pick up the slack and could not. Saquon Barkley caught a team-record 14 passes, broke some tackles, and broke nothing long.

So it was a total team mess. But it appears increasingly likely that Manning is stuck in a fairway bunker on the 18th hole of his career, with little evidence he can shoot his way out of it.

Will he have his moments? Surely. He seems to be healthy, certainly knows the game and likely will win a few this fall. That would be OK under most circumstances, but not this one: With a win-now team that hired a veteran general manager and veteran head coach and selected a running back with the second overall pick in the draft.

Running back is the ultimate win-now position, given how short “now” is in that job. And it will be even shorter for Barkley if Manning keeps using him for dump-offs to avoid pass rushers.

Up next: J.J. Watt of the Texans.

When Ben McAdoo ham-handedly benched Manning last November, I wrote a column that was part ode to his past and part blunt assessment of his present. It said that he “was in decline and on his way out and was nice enough to leave a lovely parting gift in the form of a draft pick high enough to use on his replacement.”

The decline part still is in play. The parting gift has parted.

For now, everyone is preaching calm amid the ruins.

When coach Pat Shurmur was asked whether he gets the sense Manning is confident in what is going on in front of him, he said, “Absolutely. Eli’s confident. He’s a pro and he battled throughout the game and I thought he did a good job.”

Manning concurred, at least about the confidence part, and said, “It’s just a matter of working together.”

The Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, who like almost every quarterback in the league is more mobile than Manning, had an uneven night himself but often made the sorts of plays Manning is unable to, especially when protection fails.

Manning did twice rush for first downs on fourth-and-1 plays in his own territory – an extreme rarity for him – and also got walloped by Jaylon Smith when scrambling on a third-down play in the red zone. So he tried.

Mostly, though, he was Same Old Eli, which through two games in 2018 is not cutting it.

Does he deserve fans’ enduring respect for his resume? Of course. Is he still the classiest of acts, even in the face of a crumbling empire? Always.

Is he still the answer at quarterback? It would be a great story if he somehow proves to be between now and his 38th birthday on Jan. 3. But as of today: no.

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