Eli Manning said he had no clue this was coming.
“I didn’t know what was going to occur,” the Giants quarterback said on Tuesday after it was announced his streak of 210 consecutive starts for the team will come to an end on Sunday. “We’re 2-9, in uncharted territory. You don’t know what to expect when you’re in that situation.”
Now that it has happened, he must look around the NFL and wonder. Wonder where it all went wrong with the Giants. Wonder what his fate could be elsewhere. Wonder if his desire to be a “Giant for life” is still what he wants.
Manning is the outlier among his peers in the league. Consider this: Besides Manning there are six other quarterbacks in the NFL this season who have won at least one Super Bowl. Scratch the injured Aaron Rodgers off the list, and that leaves Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. None of them is on a team that currently has a losing record and all seem poised to return to the playoffs yet again this January.
Take a look at Manning’s contemporaries, quarterbacks who came into the NFL roughly the same time he did in 2004. There’s Brady, Brees and Roethlisberger, all in first place. There is Philip Rivers, drafted in the same class as Manning, at 5-6 with the Chargers but only a game out of first place. There is Alex Smith, the first overall selection the year after Manning was. Struggling with the Chiefs. First place.
The only quarterbacks in Manning’s demographic who aren’t on playoff-contending teams this season are Carson Palmer (injured with the 5-6 Cardinals), Josh McCown with the 4-7 Jets, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is filling in for the injured Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay (4-7).
Manning undoubtedly deserves a better send-off than what he is getting this season and this week with the Giants, if this truly is the end of his time with the team. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has done nothing but represent the franchise in the best way possible; he is the reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year. He deflected crises. He absorbed the blame.
The Giants stink this year, that’s for sure. Manning was struggling with that.
“Early in your career you just say I have to get better, I’m gonna use this as a learning opportunity to play in games and get my feet wet and make some mistakes and learn from it so I’ll be better next year,” Manning said on a WFAN interview on Monday. “As you get into Year 14, you want to make playoffs and have opportunities to win championships. You’re looking forward to those opportunities. To already be out of the mix at this point, it’s definitely tough. All I can do is just be there for my teammates and go compete and do my job.”
Now, that job has changed.
With 1:08 left in a miserable Thanksgiving Night game in Washington, Manning tried to hit Travis Rudolph on a deep pass but was picked off by Kendall Fuller.
At the time no one realized it might be Manning’s final pass as a Giant. Certainly Manning did not. Yet perhaps it can be proper punctuation to his tenure with the team, a valiant but vain effort in the face of a losing battle to create something with an undrafted rookie and generate a glimmer of hope.
Manning knew it was an awful game. He was downtrodden afterward. He admitted that the offensive production wasn’t good enough. He said it needed to be fixed.
But he thought he would be the one to get the chance to do that. We all did.
The Giants have three home games remaining. Manning has been stripped of his starting job, but he is still the team’s captain so he’ll be out at midfield before those games for the coin toss. It’ll be a hollow experience; as a member of the home team, he won’t even get to call heads or tails. But it will give Giants fans who decide they can stomach those late-season games at MetLife Stadium and decide not to sell their tickets to fans of the Cowboys, Eagles or Redskins, one last chance to show Manning some appreciation.
There should be a standing ovation for those coin tosses.
Let Giants fans do what the Giants themselves would not and give Manning a proper curtain call.
He didn’t see his benching coming, but that doesn’t mean Manning shouldn’t see and hear and feel how much he has meant to the organization.