As the Giants prepare to leave for their bye week — the players will be off starting Wednesday — Pat Shurmur gave a strong vote of confidence to the one position everyone who observes the team cares about.
“Eli is our quarterback,” he said of beleaguered two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning.
But what about when the Giants return early next week?
On that topic, Shurmur was less unequivocal.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll look at all things. I think we have a minute here to do that and I think we have to make some good decisions going forward.”
Shurmur is well aware of the weight his words carry, and he tried to be as precise as he could. He said he doesn’t want to “tease” the idea of a quarterback change. Since the end of Sunday’s loss to Washington, however, he’s done little to defuse that possibility.
This is a coach who 2 1⁄2 weeks ago said Manning’s role would not be on the table when the Giants had a weekend off after their loss to the Eagles. It’s a coach who, when he wanted to try to quash a storyline about wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. this season, emphasized his lack of patience with the topic by declaring it “Finito! Done!”
This quarterback conversation? It’s comenzando! Just getting started!
“At this point, Eli is our quarterback and we’re looking at all areas to improve,” he said. “That’s where it’s at.”
It’s starting to feel like a bye-week referendum on Manning’s future at the position he has held since Week 11 of the 2004 season, but the quarterback said he’s not worried about it.
“That’s what a coach does,” said. “The bye week, you evaluate everything. That’s part of his job.”
As for whether that verdict will keep Manning on the field, he said: “I hope so.” If it does not, he said he’ll deal with that.
“I’ve always been a team player and do what I’m told,” he said. “I expect and want to be the starting quarterback until I’m told differently.”
In his weekly radio appearance on WFAN, Manning said it has crossed his mind that he might be coming to the end of his time with the Giants.
“You try not to think of it,” he said. “You understand and I see the big picture. Hey, you understand when you get to year 15 and you’re not winning games, you don’t know how many more opportunities you have.”
He also said that losing at age 37 is much harder than it was as a rookie, when he was 1-6 as a starter.
“Early in your career, you have a tough season or tough games, you chalk it up to learning,” he said. “You’re learning how to win and fitting it all together and you know you have time and you’re building something with your core group of guys. Late in [your career], you don’t know if there is another year or what’s kind of ahead of you. That makes it tough. It makes you give it your all and give everything to turn it around and get that win or feel good about what’s going to happen. That’s kind of the outlook.
"Hey, I have eight games left to make something good of this season. It doesn’t guarantee that you make the playoffs or you’re playing next year. It doesn’t guarantee anything. But you can feel good and it’s fun to win. It’s fun to win football games, it’s fun to win multiple games in a row. Those are great feelings and we have an opportunity to do that, to feel good about what we’re doing.”
The debate over Manning stems more from the team’s performance than his. He has a passer rating of 91.0 this season, with eight touchdown passes and six interceptions, and hasn’t been able to elevate an offense that is struggling to score points in a league in which younger, more mobile quarterbacks shake their heads and have touchdowns fall from their hair.
With the team 1-7 and peeking toward the future with the trades executed last week, playing Manning at the cost of developing other quarterbacks might be at odds with the long-term goals of the Giants.
Especially after last year, when not playing rookie Davis Webb in any games was seen as a mistake.
The Giants’ options to play quarterback aren’t necessarily better than Manning, just different. Backup Alex Tanney and rookie Kyle Lauletta total one game of NFL experience.
Shurmur insists that even though Lauletta has yet to be active for a regular-season game,he is getting reps in practices.
“You always want to make sure that when you replace somebody, you replace them with somebody who can do that job,” Shurmur said. “I think you always consider that because the team counts on the fact that we’re going to play the best people at all positions.”
Changing a quarterback, though, is never a simple decision. The Giants have made plenty of lineup switches this season, but replacing a two-time Super Bowl MVP isn’t something that is handled only at the head-coaching level.
Shurmur said he had not yet spoken with general manager Dave Gettleman or ownership about Manning. “I imagine that might be part of what we do this week,” he said.
And it could determine who plays quarterback for the Giants going forward this season.