FOXBOROUGH, MASS. -- Less than a few hundred feet from where he works his magic on the Gillette Stadium field, Tom Brady was behind a lectern Thursday, marveling at the gifts of another quarterback.
Along with most of the nation, Brady watched last week’s NFC championship game between the Giants and the San Francisco 49ers, and he couldn’t help but take notice of Eli Manning’s poise under pressure.
Manning is neither big, nor imposing, but as the old Timex slogan goes – he takes a licking and keeps on ticking. The Giants quarterback stood firm despite getting slammed relentlessly by the 49ers defensive front – something Brady can relate to.
“It’s part of the position,” the Patriots quarterback said after Thursday’s practice. “You watch the San Francisco game -- and I watched that -- and he was getting drilled and just stood in there, kept making the throws, trusting his protection and came through when they needed him.
“He’s certainly a great leader for that team and plays at an extremely high level. And you don’t get to this game without playing at a high level. He seems to always do it down the stretch.”
Some scoffed when Manning declared himself an “elite” quarterback, among the ranks of his brother, Peyton, and Brady. But the Patriots are believers.
Defensive end Mark Anderson was asked what came to mind when he thought of the Giants. But his response was not their vaunted front four, nor their passing attack.
“Eli. I see Eli,” said Anderson, who signed with the Patriots in August. “Eli is the key to their team right now. He’s the engine right now. ….I think right now, he’s looking like one of the greatest right now. One of the greats right now. He’s playing at a high level. And it’s our job as the defensive line to stop that and slow him down and try to mess up his whole momentum right now.”
So is Eli the best quarterback the Patriots have faced since … well, Eli in Week 9?
“Obviously, he’s in the Super Bowl, so, you got to put him up there right now,” Anderson added. “He’s the best that’s doing it right now. They’re right there in the Super Bowl.”
Manning can hurt teams in a number of ways, said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick – even with his feet.
“Not that he’s looking to run for 100 yards or anything,” he said. “But converting on third down, scrambling out of the pocket, keeping plays alive, we’ve seen that before. He does a good job. He has a lot of skill and he uses all his weapons, spreads the ball around and makes you defend everybody. And he wins – that’s really what a quarterback’s job is.”
Defensive captain Vince Wilfork said the Giants have “probably one of the best offenses we’ve seen, from every aspect.” And Manning’s the main reason why.
“(There have been) a lot of questions about Peyton. Now his little brother Eli, he stepped his game up big time,” said the Patriots defensive tackle. “He can always be compared to some of the greats in the game now, because of his production. He took that team over. Not saying he’s the only one, but his play alone moved them in the right direction.”