Anybody who reads this column knows that we blame everything on Eli Manning. We agree this is irrational, but we can’t help ourselves. He drives us fekkin’ crazy. We’ve been Giants fans since they played at the Yale Bowl, awaiting the construction of their new stadium in the Meadowlands, and we’ve suffered through some dreadful quarterbacks in that time, notably Joe Pisarcik, who, in our fevered imagination, called the signals for a decade at least. In reality, he started for less than two full seasons, but that gives you a sense of the pain and hurt that he left us with.
Over this more-than-30-year period, Eli is the first real bona fide megatalent the Giants ever got their hands on. Phil Simms, you’ll remember, was a total nobody when the Giants bravely drafted him in the first round; if they’d had their druthers, they’d have taken Jack Thompson, the Throwin’ Samoan, who ended up tanking in the pros.
So here’s the point. We had, and still have, very high expectations of what Manning should accomplish. We remember that New York Times Magazine profile that Michael Lewis wrote, with Ernie Acorsi waxing panegyric about Eli’s “exquisite feel for the game,” an arm “stronger than Ernie dared to imagine.”
As we all know, Eli has already won a Super Bowl, and for that, we will be forever in his debt. But he could possibly be our starting quarterback for another decade, and two years ago was two years ago. Like all fans, we’re greedy. We want another Super Bowl. In fact, we’ll take a couple. But for that to be even remotely thinkable, Manning has to got to start exhibiting this “exquisite feel for the game” with a little more week-to-week, play-to-play consistency. Notice how he nervously scrunches his shoulder after every busted play? It’s driving us to distraction. After all these years playing quarterback at high levels, he doesn’t seem to grasp that he must make things happen for his team even when everything is collapsing around him. The quarterback’s job is to win games, nothing less — we don’t care how poorly the defense plays or how disturbingly lame the play-calling is. In every one of the Giants’ losses, Manning has had a chance to win the game.
Until Thanksgiving Day against Denver, that is. The Giants never had a chance to win this one. Manning played poorly, yes, but this week, we cease our barrage of Eli nitpicking. Because against Denver, the Giants may have been outplayed, but they were more seriously outcoached. Like the coaching staff, we were surprised by the tenacity of the Broncos’ defense and how much pressure they were able to put on Manning in the pocket. Didn’t we used to have a good offensive line? Clearly, the Broncos’ game plan was better than that of the Giants. But okay, fine, you make adjustments. There are holes in every defensive scheme.
But the Giants kept banging their head against a brick wall, acting surprised each time to discover that, good God, that wall is made of brick. The low moment came with ten minutes, eleven seconds left in the game, the Giants down by seventeen. They started their drive, or what we hoped might turn into a drive, on their own sixteen. The circumstances were grim, but there was enough time left to rescue us all from this nightmare. First play from scrimmage: handoff to Brandon Jacobs. Handoff to fucking Brandon Jacobs.
Right there, you had to wonder: Are the Giants coaches watching the same game we are? Do they not understand that there is no time to mount a sustained drive, that the only thin shred of hope left is to roll the dice with their unimaginably strong-armed quarterback and see if he can string together a couple of big plays and somehow electro-shock this sad, narcoleptic team back into the game?
That, evidently, was not their thinking. Next play was a short completion to Hakeem Nicks. Better, but still conservative. Then, our savage Thanksgiving Day denouement: a sack, Manning coughs up the ball, game over.
What does this sequence reveal? That the coaching staff has less faith in Manning than we do. Even with their backs against the wall, they won’t let him take risks. Pocket collapsing every play? Okay, roll him out. The papers said his foot was hurting him, but he looked all right on the field. His passes had zip. He looked as mobile as he’s ever been. But no. The coaches seemed content to give up with ten minutes left in the game.
We wrote last week that Kyle Orton makes us appreciate the talent of Eli Manning. We continue to believe that, especially after watching that awful interception Orton threw to Terrell Thomas that gave the Giants a brief hint of life. But Orton has two great advantages over Manning. One, he has a premium receiver in Brandon Marshall, someone who has the strength and experience to manhandle defensive backs and get to the ball no matter where it’s thrown. Two, he’s got a coach who believes in him enough to make a bold call like that fourth-and-five in the second quarter, when Orton came through with a huge 22-yard completion.
It has now come down to fourth down on the Giants’ year. Let’s see whether they go for it next week or punt the season away.