Eli Manning has something to say.
The Giants quarterback usually reserves any hint of public flogging for himself and keeps whatever criticisms he has for teammates behind the soundproof doors of the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. But in the last few days, Manning has come out with some blunt observations and appraisals of his team.
Immediately after Sunday night's 27-0 loss to the Eagles, he said the lopsided result was "a good reminder" to his fellow Giants that "you can't just show up on the field and have things go well for you automatically. You have to earn it." He also admitted the Giants "got outplayed, we got outperformed and we got out-physicaled."
Then on Monday he again was hitting talking points like wide-open receivers, urging his team to "grow up" and put the defeat and the loss of Victor Cruz behind them. The implication being that there is some immaturity in the locker room.
None of these sentiments came in shouts. None were the types of fiery tirades we've come to expect from Antrel Rolle or . . . well, really just Antrel Rolle. Manning wasn't screaming about the team having to show more swag or dog or any of the other fun words Rolle uses to excite the team. He wasn't calling out specific players or position groups. That's not his style.
The fact that Manning said those things publicly, though, is a sign he is taking the next step in his evolution as a leader. The 11-year veteran is becoming the rare player who can criticize teammates openly and get away with it. He's one of the few in the Giants' locker room with enough clout to swing that kind of honesty.
The Giants are listening.
"They're powerful words," linebacker Jameel McClain said on Tuesday at a United Way of New York City Hometown Huddle event at P.S. 49 in the Bronx. "You have to take heed from everything he says because he's such a serious person and he's so calculated. You know that it's meant from a good place, a place that it's meant for you to learn from it. That's who he is."
You still have to listen carefully to hear what is on Manning's mind. A lot of it is still hidden in a sea of "we have to do betters" and "keep moving forwards." When discussing the play of the offensive line in Sunday night's game, for instance, Manning put as much blame on himself as on his blockers for the six sacks he suffered. He said he has to improve at getting the ball out more quickly and knowing where the pass rushers are in the pocket.
Manning has been on this roller coaster before, so he knows where the dips are. He knows when it's OK to throw your hands in the air and enjoy the ride, and when it's time to grab on tight to the safety bar. He seems to be trying to impart that wisdom to teammates, many of whom are only now learning about the jostling ups and downs of life in the NFL.
Manning has long held that role inside the team. Many credit him for standing up in a meeting and setting the tone prior to the two weeks of preparation for Super Bowl XLVI. He's worked with young receivers and tight ends in individual film studies to improve chemistry. He's one of only two NFL players who has been a captain since 2007, when the league began marking each team's leaders with patches.
"I look at Eli as one of those quiet leaders with the perfect demeanor through every situation," McClain said. "I know when Eli is going out there, I can look him in his eyes and see that he's ready to go at it. That's everything in this league, to be able to look a man in his eyes and say, 'All right, he's going to battle with me.' That's everything that Eli represents. His leadership is crucial to this team."
Now, teammates don't have to look in Manning's eyes to see his leadership. They can read it in the papers.
It's a change, a subtle one. If it gets the attention of those to whom the comments are directed, it will be a change for the better.