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Why Friday's preseason game vs. the Bears has more at stake than usual for Eli Manning

Giants quarterback Eli Manning warms up prior to

Giants quarterback Eli Manning warms up prior to the start of a preseason game against the Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 8. Photo Credit: Daniel De Mato

It’s the second preseason game for the 2019 Giants, so it’s silly to slap any real level of significance on Friday night’s contest against the Bears. And for Eli Manning in particular, as he pushes toward his 16th NFL campaign, it’s just a root in the trail that has to be stepped over without tripping. He’s started must-win regular-season games, postseason games and Super Bowls. A contest in August in a half-empty stadium against a defense that may or may not be playing all of its starters? Hardly a seminal moment.

Then again …

Maybe this is an important opportunity for Manning. After his meek three-and-out in last week’s opener was overshadowed by rookie Daniel Jones’ 5-for-5 touchdown drive, a strong showing by the veteran would allow the Giants to put their planets back into proper orbit. It would allow them to cling to their plan of having Manning as their starting quarterback – perhaps all season, if you ask co-owner John Mara, perhaps beyond if you ask general manager Dave Gettleman – and end the narrative push for an open quarterback competition with the regular-season opener fast approaching.

Manning will be the starting quarterback for the Giants, and nothing this preseason – short of an injury – seems able to change that stance by the team. But it would be nice for them to be able to point to a sampling of his most recent play and say: “That’s why.”

It’s up to Manning to provide that, and this is his next-to-last chance to do so. He’ll start this game against the Bears, play a large chunk of the third preseason game against the Bengals, then likely sit out in the summer finale against the Patriots.

“You always want to go out there, perform well and make good decisions,” Manning said this week of his preseason checklist. “I think in preseason it’s important for quarterbacks, because things are live now. The rush is live, it’s real and you’re going to have to throw it in some more awkward situations with your feet not always set and different things. It’s good to get work on that, feel the rush and move it around, and [then] make good decisions with that.”

Pat Shurmur said he judges all of his quarterbacks in preseason games on the same scale, be it 16-year veterans or rookies destined to start the season on the bench.

“Everybody that you put on the field, it has to look like football,” the Giants coach said. “You want them to execute well within the amount of reps that they get. Am I looking for anything different [from different quarterbacks]? Probably not. What you want a quarterback to be able to do is keep drives alive, get completions and help get the offense in the end zone. I think that’s what you’re looking for ideally.”

So far he’s seen that from Jones. Now he needs to see that from Manning.

Manning has never been very august in August. His preseason performances are generally less than exhilarating. He handcuffed himself on his first and only drive of the preseason opener a week ago when he decided not to try a deeper pass to an open Rhett Ellison and instead threw a short completion to Scott Simonson for a minimal gain. Then, on third-and-8, rather than pass and try to extend the drive, he checked to a run and handed off to Wayne Gallman before yielding to the punt team.

And yielding to Jones.

If Manning is feeling any pressure from Jones, he’s certainly not acting like it on the field. Or in the locker room.

“I knew, even when we drafted Daniel Jones, that wasn’t going to change anything for Eli,” Saquon Barkley said this week. “That’s how Eli is . . . When Daniel Jones goes out there and does a great job, it’s not like he’s worried. He’s happy for him.”

Now Manning has to make the team happy for him. Happy to be with him.

It won’t change the plan either way. But a strong showing will certainly help to sell it.

Notes & quotes: Don’t expect to see much if anything at all from the Bears’ starters on Friday night. They played a full-contact scrimmage on Wednesday night at training camp, so head coach Matt Nagy is unlikely to put them through more game-speed reps just two days later … Don’t expect to see Barkley either. Asked about keeping such a valuable piece of the Giants’ offense out of preseason games, Shurmur smirked and said: “You make a good point.”

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