A Week 2 game against the Bills should not be one that figures prominently into the legacy of a two-time Super Bowl MVP, a quarterback who sits atop his franchise’s record book in just about every statistical category imaginable and is nestled comfortably among the top 10 of all time in many of them.
Yet Sunday’s contest at MetLife Stadium could be just that for Eli Manning.
Because despite all he has achieved and all he has meant to this city and the Giants, he enters this game with a career record of 116-115 as a starter. That’s one game over .500. This is, in other words, a must-win situation for Manning to keep his ledger in the black.
And in case you haven’t noticed, he might not have a lot of time left to stack the win column if he continues to accumulate losses.
The last time Manning’s career record was even in wins and losses was after the epic Week 3 victory in 2007 that included a goal line stand and set them on a course for a Super Bowl. The week before that was the last time he had a losing record. He was 20-21 after those 2007 Giants started 0-2.
The high-water mark for Manning’s career record was 23 games over .500 midway through the 2012 season. He was 75-52 at that point after a win over the Cowboys. He’s been 41-63 since.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has paid attention that the first half of Manning’s career was better than the second. What is disconcerting is that the second half now seems poised to statistically eclipse the first.
Manning is one of 15 quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 100 wins. He also has the second-most losses in NFL history. Only Vinny Testaverde has lost more regular-season starts than Manning. Testaverde was 90-123.
Football is, of course, the ultimate team sport, so judging quarterbacks by their won-loss record or by Super Bowl victories is a little unfair. But so be it.
There are 28 quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame but only two who have losing career records: Joe Namath (62-63-4) and Sonny Jurgenson (69-73-7). There is only one two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback (besides those still active or ineligible) who is not in the Hall of Fame: Jim Plunkett.
Hall of Famer Kurt Warner said earlier this summer that he thought Manning’s won-loss record could hurt his chances for induction into Canton. Warner was 67-49 as a regular season starter, won a regular season MVP and a Super Bowl MVP, and played in three Super Bowls. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I think quarterbacks are leaders, first and foremost, so I think the bottom line is lifting the play of other people and playing better than what your roster says, always putting your team in position, so yeah, it’s fair,” Warner said of considering the ratio when considering a candidate. “I don’t think [a won-loss record] can be everything. That’s not the end-all, be-all.”
But it is important. Which is why Sunday is.
Not just for the Giants, who began their season with a loss and are looking to rebound and change the direction of their next few weeks. And not just for fans who are tired of watching the team flounder through the early parts of seasons and having their football season over before their baseball season is.
It is important for Manning and his chances of finishing his career with his head above water.
There is little doubt that in the majority of the past seven or so seasons, the Giants failed Manning — through poor decisions and bad rosters — more than he failed them. Manning, though, carries the burden of those shortcomings on his record.
He’ll forever be remembered for being the quarterback on two Super Bowl winners. Nothing can take away those rings or those iconic plays that led to the two comebacks. And the statistics he’s accumulated in 15-plus NFL seasons are remarkable. He should land in the Hall of Fame someday.
Manning is anything but a loser.
It would be a shame if his eventual record said otherwise.
The 15 NFL QBs with at least 100 regular-season wins as a starter:
Tom Brady 208-60
Peyton Manning 186-79
Brett Favre 186-112
Drew Brees 156-108
John Elway 148-82-1
Dan Marino 147-93
Ben Roethlisberger 144-70-1
Philip Rivers 119-90
Joe Montana 117-47
Eli Manning 116-115
Terry Bradshaw 107-57
Matt Ryan 102-73
Warren Moon 102-101
Aaron Rodgers 101-57-1
Jim Kelly 101-59