On September 13, 2003, Eli Manning and the Ole Miss Rebels carved up the Louisiana-Monroe Indians 59–14. Manning connected on 21 of 26 passes for 353 yards. We looked this up because after watching the Giants handily beat, but not quite annihilate, the pitiful Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday, we wondered whether Manning might have some nice-guy genetic aversion to bringing the hammer down on weak opponents. We know it’s unfair to complain when your team wins 24–0, so fine, we won’t complain. But we will state that the margin should’ve been much wider. The Bucs are as bad a team as we’ve seen since, well, maybe only since week one when we saw the Redskins. If we had to choose between starting Jason Campbell or Byron Leftwich at quarterback, we’d check to see how well the punter could throw.
For that reason, we are indeed grateful that Manning is our quarterback, and based on our completely unscientific research, we hereby absolve him of being incapable of running up the score. The Giants did score on their first two red-zone possessions after being the only team in the league to fail to produce a red-zone TD in the first two games (somehow the Skins and Bucs managed it; we don’t know how). But after that impressive start, the Giants took it easy. On a red-zone possession in the third quarter, they ran the ball three times then kicked a field goal. By that time, the game was no contest, but come on, this is the NFL, you gotta put the ball in the end zone as many times as you possibly can — both to eliminate any chance of the other team coming back and to hone your execution under game conditions. The Bucs showed the Giants nothing yesterday; the Giants showed them mercy.
The highlight of the game was the fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Sinorice Moss, a deceptively difficult play. Manning’s greatest talent is putting just the right among of zip and loft into a ball to drop it over, or in between, coverage — we’re not sure there’s a quarterback who does it better. His problems, crazily enough, come on much simpler plays, like that near interception he threw on the first drive. Two Tampa guys were draped all over Steve Smith, but Manning foolishly tried to needle the ball in. We still don’t understand how it passed through the defender’s arms and into Smith’s hands for a completion. It was like an optical illusion, and we cringe to think of how much differently the game might’ve turned out if that ball had been properly picked off. Even awful teams can go far on a burst of confidence.
Later, in the third quarter, Manning had Kevin Boss wide open over the middle — the tight end was basically stationary. But rather than drop one right into his breadbasket, Manning threw an odd flare, high and off-target. Boss probably should’ve come up with it, but it was still strange. You tend not to see other top quarterbacks make such elementary errors. It reminds us of Mariano Rivera, master of the impossibly precise 98-mph cutter, who freezes up when he gets a come-backer to the mound and has to make the routine throw to first.
It’s really hard to evaluate anybody’s performance against an opponent as somnolent as the Bucs. The Giants face Kansas City next week, and though the Chiefs are 0–3, we expect they could be a test. KC is going to fight like mad to prevent their season from disappearing down the toilet. It seems that opposing teams will continue to put the onus on Eli — stacking the box and seeing if they can force him into making mistakes and throwing interceptions. He’s tossed just one in three games (to five touchdowns), and if he keeps up that ratio, the rest of the NFL is going to have to figure out some other way to beat the Giants.