- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They've played four games already, but the New York Giants' first-team offense isn't done with its preseason work just yet. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Friday's preseason victory over the New York Jets that quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants' first-stringers are likely to play a bit in Thursday's preseason finale against the Patriots.
"I think we will. I haven't decided that yet," Coughlin said. "We don't play until Monday Night, so that's quite a hike. We'll probably play some snaps with the ones."
Coughlin's Monday night reference is to the fact that the Giants' regular-season opener isn't until "Monday Night Football" on Sept. 8 -- a full 11 days after their final preseason game. So the reason Manning & Co. likely will have to work next week isn't just because they've struggled to move the ball this preseason. Part of it is that he doesn't want them to go 17 days without any live game action.
"At the end of the day, we just work here and we have to listen to the coaching staff and do whatever they feel is right," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "I'm definitely excited to go out there and get some routes in against the Patriots. Hopefully, we can build on what we did this week."
They could use the work. Friday night was the first time in four preseason games that Manning threw a touchdown pass, connecting with Rueben Randle on a 15-yard score at the tail end of a successful two-minute drive at the end of the first half. Manning was 7-for-10 for 91 yards on that drive, including three completions to the target-starved Cruz for 52 yards. But until that time, the first-team offense was struggling again in pass protection, and Manning was not in a rhythm. And even on that drive, he threw a terrible interception that was called back because Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson had stepped out of bounds before catching it.
So after all that had gone wrong, so far this month and in this game, it was a huge relief for the offense to put together a drive like the one with which it ended the first half.
"We definitely needed it," left tackle Will Beatty said. "We needed to put points on the board as the first offense."
Beatty and the rest of the offensive line admittedly had a tough time keeping the Jets' front-seven defensive players away from Manning. Coughlin said Manning "re-established himself as a tough customer" in this game by bouncing back up from all the hits he took. But while Coughlin was obviously trying to be upbeat and talk about the two-minute drive and the run blocking, it's clear Manning's protection needs to be better.
"Our goal is for him to come in with a white jersey and come out a little bit cleaner," Beatty said. "Tonight, it was way too many touches on the quarterback. There's still a lot of work for us to do. Personally, I think my footwork was better this week than it was last week. I'm still not where I need to be, but I'm on the right track."
There was a lot to dislike about the way the game was going for Manning and the Giants' starters until that final drive of the first half. At this point in the preseason, they are choosing to look at the positive things they're doing and use those to help convince themselves it's all going to be OK once the real games start in a couple of weeks.
"Not concerned at this point," Manning said. "I know we have to keep working and keep getting better. It's not where it needs to be, but I thought there was progress in today's game. We're going to keep working, and it'll be better and better as things go on. Hopefully it'll be better next week and better for that opening game. But it's not going to be complete at that point, either. We're going to have to continue to make improvements throughout the season."
At least after Friday, they feel a little bit better about the possibility that they can accomplish something on offense.