SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Eli Manning has long had a reputation for late-game heroics. For many Giants, though, that’s all it has been. A reputation. Something they’ve heard about, or witnessed only as young spectators watching on television.
That’s what made Monday night’s come-from-behind performance by the Giants and their beleaguered quarterback so significant. On a team where the coaching staff and roster has been almost completely turned over, there are only a handful of people who were with the club two years ago when Manning last threw a fourth-quarter touchdown to complete a comeback.
Such a feat was starting to feel like a myth. It was certainly starting to feel like it might never happen again. Now, they’ve seen it for themselves.
The Giants had the ball at their own 25, trailing by three, with 2:46 left. It wasn’t long ago that such circumstances would have been exactly the ones in which Manning would thrive. Whether it was a Super Bowl or a mid-season game, the cool king of the comeback would effortlessly march his team down the field and win the game.
On Monday night, Manning gave his teammates their first look at the magic touch, and his fans and supporters what could be one of the last.
Manning threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard with 53 seconds left to give the Giants a 27-23 victory over the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. It was Manning’s third touchdown pass of the game, and the most important he’s thrown in quite a while.
“That’s what Eli is really good at, engineering those come from behind drives, and that was terrific,” Pat Shurmur said after his first first-hand experience with such theatrics. “Even when I was learning the background of Eli from back when he was at Ole Miss, Ernie Accorsi and Dave Gettleman and the guys who brought him here said he was so good at doing that. Some quarterbacks have a knack for that phase of the game. He’s done it well and he proved tonight that he can still do it.”
Regardless of Monday’s performance and victory, Manning’s future with the team seems to be in its final stage. This one at least bought Manning at least a little more time at the helm of the franchise. With no guarantee of holding his starting job beyond this game when it began, the 37-year-old likely secured at least another few outings with his performance. It was the 36th time in his career that he has guided the Giants to a win when they were tied or trailing in the fourth quarter of a regular-season game.
How many more opportunities Manning has to create such moments remains to be seen.
“I’m happy to be with him and I’m embracing the time I do have with him,” Shepard said. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m embracing the time to play with greatness and I’m taking in every moment.”
The Giants didn’t just erase a three-point deficit, which came when Robbie Gould kicked a 30-yard field goal with 2:46 remaining. They were also down 20-10 when the 49ers opened the second half with an 11-play, 60-yard drive that was capped by Nick Mullens’ 11-yard touchdown pass to Matt Breida. The Giants fought back from that, starting with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Odell Beckham Jr., their second scoring connection of the game, and a 31-yard field goal from Aldrick Rosas that knotted the score at 20 with 2:10 left in the third.
The win snapped a six-game losing streak and put the Giants at 2-7 on the season, still one of the worst records in the NFL. Only the Raiders have fewer wins. But it also gave the Giants something they haven’t had since their last victory in Week 3: Hope.
Beckham, who said last week he wanted the team to rattle off eight straight wins to finish 9-7 and make the playoffs, stood by that proclamation. “I wasn’t joking when I said we have to win eight games, that’s obviously the goal,” he said on Monday night. “I don’t come here to just line up and lose. We come here to win these games.”
And now that they have confidence in their quarterback, it’s a proposition that seems a little less insane than it was a few days ago.
Landon Collins said it proves to the younger players and newer Giants that “they have a quarterback who can do those things. It’s a big confidence booster that makes everyone want to go harder.”
As they stepped in the huddle for that final drive, one that saw key contributions from Shepard and Evan Engram, who had been very quiet for most of the game, not to mention a key reception by Saquon Barkley whose impact was felt mostly in the running game, Beckham said he had two thoughts.
“It was just time,” he said. “We’ve been in many close games. We knew how to lose them. We just had to find a way to win one.”
His other thought?
“I said what I always say to [Manning],” Beckham said. “Take me home, 10.”
On this night, he did.