MINNEAPOLIS — The Giants have wasted another year of Eli Manning’s prime.
And this one might turn out to be his best in the series of worsts.
The team’s franchise quarterback will turn 35 next week on the day the regular season ends with an anticlimactic whimper for the fourth straight year. Saturday night’s win by Washington clinched the NFC East title and eliminated the Giants from postseason contention, forcing them to play a meaningless game in frigid temperatures Sunday night against the Vikings. The Giants have missed the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons, and perhaps the most jarring part of that stretch of disappointment is that Manning started every single one of those games.
No other team can boast that kind of stability at the game’s most important position, yet the Giants have been unable to do much of anything with their luck. They won a Super Bowl in the middle of this run of despair, and that’s something many other teams would love to have accomplished in the same timeframe. But it is not what the Giants wanted in return for the $101.9 million they have spent on Manning in base salary and signing bonuses since the start of the 2009 season.
Still, Manning is on the verge of putting up career numbers for 2015. He needed to complete 32 passes in the final two weeks to break the team record of 379 completions that he set last season (he also needed to throw 56 passes in the final two weeks to reach 602 for the season and break his franchise record, also set last year). His 32 touchdown passes in the first 14 games already were a career best for him and put him within reach of the team record of 36 set by Y.A. Tittle in 1963 (Tittle also had 33 in 1962).
Manning’s team record for most passing yards in a single season (4,933 in 2011) seems safe, especially with Odell Beckham Jr. sitting out Sunday night’s game serving a one-game suspension. Manning entered Sunday night’s game with 3,900.
He had thrown only 10 interceptions before Sunday night’s game (his career low is 10 in 2008), and his passer rating entering the game was 96.1. His previous best rating for a single season was 93.1 in 2009 (Tittle holds the team record of 104.8 in 1963).
And yet the two-time Super Bowl MVP again will be watching the postseason unfold from afar.
It’s worth noting that as the league celebrates the golden anniversary of the Super Bowl and will be touting all of its past champions, no franchise has had a more precipitous fall from the pinnacle of the sport than these Giants. They are only the second team in the Super Bowl era to win the whole shebang and then miss the postseason the next four seasons.
The first to do it? The Packers, who after winning the first two titles went four years without a playoff berth. The difference is that in 1968 and 1969, there were no wild cards to help the Packers, and in 1970 and 1971, there was only one wild-card opening. The Giants have played this stretch during a period in which they have three ways to get into the playoffs (a division title and two wild cards).
Bart Starr was on the team through all of those four dry seasons in Green Bay (he played sparingly in 1971), but the 1967 championship marked the final season for Vince Lombardi as the Packers’ coach. In other words, Tom Coughlin and Manning are the first head coach-quarterback combo to fall this far this fast.
Manning will be back next year to either put an end to that streak or watch it become the longest in history. As this season shows, his efforts alone will not be enough to determine which.
Notes & quotes: The Giants had three players active Sunday night who began the week on the practice squad: wide receiver Ben Edwards, tight end Matt LaCosse and defensive end Brad Bars . . . Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks started in place of Beckham . . . The loser of next week’s Eagles-Giants game will finish in third place and play the Rams in London in 2016. The game will be played Oct. 23 at Twickenham Stadium, a rugby stadium that will host an NFL game for the first time.