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Giants' Manning on hot streak down the stretch

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants reacts during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. (December 13, 2009) Credit: Getty Images

The last time Eli Manning was playing like this, he wound up with a ring, a big silver trophy and a new truck as Super Bowl MVP.

That was in early 2008, when he guided the Giants on a remarkable postseason run while playing the best football of his career. In the four postseason games of that stretch he threw for six touchdowns and an interception, completed 60.5 percent of his passes and racked up 854 yards.

In the last three games, he's returned to that level. Against the Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins, he's thrown eight touchdowns and one interception, has completed 64 percent of his passes, and has 900 yards in the air. In each of the last two games, Manning has thrown three TD passes without an interception, the first Giant to do that in back-to-back games since Phil Simms early in 1984.

"He's on top of his game right now and it's great heading into this stretch run," tight end Kevin Boss said. "He's playing the best I've seen him play for a while. I'm hoping that we can do the same thing that we did a couple of years ago."

By any estimation, Manning is having the best regular season of his career. He has eclipsed his own mark with 26 touchdown passes and has had the two biggest passing games of his career in the last month, posting 384 yards against Atlanta and topping it with 391 against the Eagles. He had a perfect passer rating in less than a half of work against the Raiders in October and then had his second-highest passer rating on Monday night when he was at 144.4 against the Redskins. Oh, and Monday's win was the 50th of his Giants career.

The only blemish on the season was the swoon through the middle games when, not coincidentally, the team also struggled. Battling a series of foot injuries that clearly disrupted his rhythm and timing, Manning had a stretch of games against the Cardinals, Eagles and Chargers in which he had three touchdowns and six interceptions. Those three games account for more than half of his season interception total.

But the words "plantar fasciitis" have not been mentioned for weeks around the Giants' locker room, and the offense has been clicking even if the victories haven't always been rolling in.

"Eli has done a great job and he is continuing to do an excellent job," Tom Coughlin said. "He has asserted himself as a leader. Obviously, the quality of his play has raised the quality of those around him. He has to continue to do that."

That's something evident from the way he's interacted with his mostly young receivers. Every Friday he drags his targets into a film room and dissects the upcoming opponent. And on Sundays, he's become a much more vocal leader.

"I think he's definitely taken more of a leadership role in the huddle," Steve Smith said. "Before the series he'll get everybody hyped up. 'Let's go.' I'd never heard him do that the last few years . . . He's more energetic, more excited, giving us compliments."

Manning refused to accept any laurels for his recent performances.

"It's not one person," he said. "When one guy plays well, it's because everybody else is doing their job. Receivers are getting open, offensive line is blocking, we're running the ball better so we are not in a whole lot of third-and-long situations."

And the quarterback is playing at the top of his game.

"You can just tell the whole offense is confident when we're playing like that," Boss said. "We're excited to get back on the field on offense because we feel like we can score every time."

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