At the end of an injury-riddled, 10-6 season that finished short of the playoffs, Giants quarterback Eli Manning made it clear he doesn't want to be defined by his career-high 25 interceptions. The Giants led the NFL with 42 turnovers, and when you throw in Manning's five lost fumbles, he had a hand in 30 of them.
Manning said he's willing to shoulder his share of the blame, but he made a strong point of explaining that several factors go into creating turnovers, including injuries that affected his wide-receiver corps and late-game situations when the Giants' QB admitted he took chances because he was desperate to fashion a comeback. For instance, his three-interception fourth quarter at Green Bay came when the Giants were 21 points behind.
"I don't think the interceptions were the reason we lost that game," Manning said of the 45-17 defeat that ultimately put the Packers into the playoffs as the sixth seed ahead of the Giants. "They were a result of being behind. But there were other games were they came early in the game or in the red zone. There's room for improvement. I've got to play smarter at times and be more careful with the ball."
Asked directly about the responsibility he bears, Manning noted that his 25 interceptions were balanced by his career-high 31 touchdown passes and 4,002 passing yards. "I put a lot on my shoulders," Manning said. "I'm not a 25-interception quarterback. That's got to be fixed. That's on me and the receivers and everybody, but most of it is on me.
"You can't dwell just on that. You've got to look at some positives. I also threw for 31 touchdowns and threw for over 4,000 yards. Those are good things. Those are some positives to build off. We had a lot of big plays in the passing game, explosive. We led the league in touchdowns over 20 yards. Those are good things to do."
Manning praised wide receiver Hakeem Nicks for a season in which he gained 1,052 yards and noted that Mario Manningham finished just short of that level with 944 yards. But he made no secret of how much he missed Steve Smith, who was in the Pro Bowl last season but saw this season cut short by a chest injury and then by knee surgery.
"Steve Smith is our slot guy on third down," Manning said. "He has a great feel; he's been doing it for four years, and that's what you practice. All of a sudden, you lose a guy like him and Derek Hagan is playing slot. He did a great job, but then you say, 'Let's try something else, let's put Manningham in the slot, let's put Hakeem in there.'
"On paper, you kind of draw it up and you think they know what they're doing. You get to rep it one or two times in practice, but all of a sudden, a game comes up and you're in a different coverage and you have a little pressure and you have to move around and your timing is off. There's only so much time you have to rep those things. So, it definitely affects things. We weren't as sharp as we needed to be with our route-running and decision-making just because we have different guys moving around each week."
At the same time, Manning pointed out the Giants adjusted well enough to go 3-0 in games without both Smith and Nicks. Manning provided some other statistical information that indicated how much thought he already has put into the turnover problem. He said the Giants were No. 1 in the NFL in first-down production when they could use effective play-action fakes because of their running game, but he was unhappy with their 35.9 percent conversion rate on third down. Part of that he attributed to the changing cast at receiver and how it affected communication and timing.
Manning expressed hope that the specter of a lockout doesn't interfere with his normal offseason work at the training complex with the coaches. If it does, he said the teams that are successful when the game resumes will be the ones that organize during the lockout and hang together and work out.
The quarterback also expressed his appreciation that coach Tom Coughlin is returning next season. "Coughlin is one of the most prepared and energetic…he loves being coach of the New York Giants," Manning said. "He loves football. He loves coming in every day and the excitement of preparing, practicing and playing the games. The players feel that energy and that passion, and it rubs off on us. I think guys respect him and trust him and know he's going to get us prepared."