ATLANTA — Eli Manning completed 27 of 38 passes for 399 yards and a touchdown on Monday night, had three completions of more than 50 yards each, did not turn over the ball and had two receivers with more than 140 yards.
Not bad for the beleaguered, aging Giants quarterback, who has been severely criticized this season.
Yet somehow even those sorts of numbers did not change the direction of the season — for Manning or the Giants.
That was because of a spectacular series of red-zone flops that kept the Giants to only six points until less than five minutes remained in the game, which they lost to the Falcons, 23-20, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to fall to 1-6.
“We have to find ways to score touchdowns when we get down there in the red zone,” Manning said. “That’s what’s hampering us.”
Manning conceded that the big, if empty, statistics only added to the frustration.
“Yeah, like I said, a lot of big plays and some good things,” he said. “Get down there in the red zone and you can’t keep settling for field goals. We’ve got to finish. That’s kind of been the theme of the year. We’ve been close in a lot of games, a lot of scenarios, a lot of drives, but we’re not finishing games strong, not finishing drives.”
One of Manning’s failures in the red zone came in the third quarter on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on which he rolled to his right, failed to throw the ball to Odell Beckham Jr. in the flat, bought time, then threw incomplete over the middle to third-string tight end Scott Simonson.
“Just had a little bootleg, looking back, maybe throw it to Odell and see if he can get in,” he said. “But obviously, I knew we had some other guys coming across that could work for me. I’ll have to look at it.”
That play came two plays after Manning had scrambled 7 yards to the Atlanta 1-yard line before being driven out of bounds near the pylon.
“When it got down to crunch time, I didn’t think I’d be able to get in,” he said. “I didn’t want to reach the ball and risk the fumble or anything, so I just tried to dive and get as much as I could to give us a chance on third down.”
Asked what he needs to do to improve himself this season, Manning said: “I’m not looking at the whole season. But I think hey, just keep trying to make good decisions and try to move in the pocket, buy time and keep trying to make good decisions.”
Is he shocked at being 1-6 two years in a row? “I’m not worried about the years in a row, just this year,” he said. “With the way we’ve worked and the players we have, obviously disappointed. But that’s what happens in this league.”
The Giants will be under increasing pressure to bench Manning and take a look at rookie Kyle Lauletta down the stretch, and then to plan for a post-Manning future as early as 2019.
But for now, Manning has to be part of the short-term solution, if he can.
“I think we’ve got good players and good character guys,” he said. “It’s tough. It’s tough on everybody. It’s not easy . . . Obviously, no one’s running away with this thing [in the NFC East], but we’re running out of time. We have to get going. We can’t settle for ‘almost.’ ”