The play that made us think we ought to renounce our Eli agnosticism and embrace Manning as the Giants' one and only savior came in the waning seconds of the first half yesterday. With the clock running down and no timeouts, Manning completed a pass over the middle to Kevin Boss, leaving them in chip-shot field-goal range, if only they could get up to the line and spike the ball. This is a situation that top quarterbacks handle so well you never worry about it, but we have grown accustomed to seeing Eli make a hash of it. Clock management has been his main bugaboo, surprisingly, given his pedigree, etc. But yesterday, he totally nailed it. He got his team up to the line and, showing calmness and poise, dumped the ball into the turf. Mission accomplished, three points.
As for the rest of the game, Manning played pretty damn well again. But for the third time in four weeks, the other team failed to show up, and thus we advise not getting too pumped up. What is with the NFL these days? How did so many teams fall into the crapper? And how did the Giants get the incredible good fortune of playing so many of them in the opening weeks of the season? Next week, we've got the Oakland Raiders, said to be the feeblest of all. Eli's good start can't be entirely written off, but until he faces a real pass rush and defensive backs who can jam the Giants' undersized receivers up at the line, we're going to hold on to a little agnosticism.
The receivers, for one, are a bigger problem than we thought. We were pleasantly surprised at how well they played in the first few games, but yesterday, despite Steve Smith's eleven catches, we saw plenty to be concerned about. Eli did what quarterbacks are supposed to do — if a defense gives you something, keep taking it. No shame in completing 100 eight-yard passes in a row. And the Chiefs let the Giants have it. But when he faces a lockdown D, it's going to be a different story. There's going to be more pressure and the backs are going to jump the short and medium routes. Smith's nifty underneath stuff will be shut down, leaving the Giants in desperate need of the big, box-out receiver they don't have. (There's a six-foot-six, 227-pound rookie from Cal Poly named Ramses Barden on the rosters, but he has yet to dress for a game; hopefully, he's killing it in practice.)
Despite a 43-yard gain, Mario Manningham played poorly, juggling or dropping pretty much everything thrown his way. Manning's passes weren't perfect, but they shouldn't have to be. Hakeem Nicks busted out a big play, and took it into the end zone with a brilliant Barry Sanders–like stutter, but we didn't see one receiver go up and take the ball away from a defender. Against good coverage, they're going to have to fight hard for the ball, and we have yet to see any indication of someone who can do that. The Giants also need to develop a running back who can catch the ball, because when downfield coverage is tight, Manning is going to need options. They ought to be figuring that out now, and not waiting until they're suddenly getting their asses kicked and that confused, hopeless look returns to Manning's eyes.
Manning's injury was certainly odd. As the announcers noted, it sure seemed unlikely that it's a bruised heel, as was originally reported, given that there was no contact on the play. An Achilles injury could be devastating. What's incredible, though, is how much Manning got on the ball even without planting his back foot. It was one of his strongest tosses of the game, more evidence of his gangly, unorthodox effectiveness.