SAN DIEGO -- They haven't forgotten.
Like a jilted lover, fans at Qualcomm Stadium held up inventive and sometimes cruel posters during the San Diego Chargers 37-14 win over the New York Giants on Sunday to welcome back the man who left the city hanging at the altar, Eli Manning.
“It's your party, make Eli cry if you want to,” read one poster held up proudly by a Chargers' fan.
Roaming the stadium were three giant silhouettes of the New York Giants' quarterback head, with Manning's hair dyed blonde and his face adorned with makeup, lipstick, pearl earrings and a Madonna-like beauty mark above his lip.
Manning also heard a steady stream of boos from the moment he took the field, and every time he went under center. Manning has a 0-3 record against the team he spurned in the 2004 draft. He finished 20-of-32 for 259 yards, one touchdown pass and two costly interceptions. Manning was sacked twice and posted a 72.3 passer rating.
But Manning said the signs and the jeering did not have an impact on his performance.
“Fans have never affected my play,” Manning said. “I just tried to go out there and play good football.”
The player San Diego received back from the Giants in that 2004 trade, Philip Rivers, took notice.
“It's an interesting deal,” Rivers said. “I don't have the same feeling toward him as many of these fans do. Ten years and they still haven't let up. But I hope they're glad I'm here, and they aren't booing because they're wishing he was here.”
While the fans did not affect Manning's play, San Diego's re-energized defense did. In the Chargers most complete win of the season, they forced three turnovers, leading to 14 points. The Chargers held the Giants to 92 total rushing yards, while San Diego scored on seven of the team's nine drives and totaled nearly 400 yards of offense.
The Chargers jumped out to a 24-0 lead and kept their foot on the gas pedal.
“It was great to have a victory like this,” San Diego linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “To get out early and maintain the lead, and then to come out after halftime and have bad things happen and weather that -- it wasn't like it was easy going the whole game. We had a little adversity.”
The adversity Johnson's refers to is Rivers being stripped of the football on a strip sack by Justin Tuck that was recovered by Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins on San Diego's 18-yard line on the first play of the second half.
The Giants scored a touchdown seven plays later on a 1-yard plunge by Peyton Hillis, cutting San Diego's lead to 24-7. But the Chargers responded with a touchdown of their own on an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by Ryan Mathews' 1-yard run, regaining momentum and control of the game.
“We've been searching to play a game when all three phases are playing well,” Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. “And to have it come in the most important game of the year, it means a lot and it shows that we're growing.”
With the win, the Chargers can still talk playoffs at 6-7, and effectively snuffed out the Giants' (5-8) playoff aspirations in the process.
But San Diego now faces the daunting task of securing a road victory against Eli's older brother -- the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos -- in a nationally televised Thursday night contest on a short practice week.
San Diego coach Mike McCoy said he doesn't take any solace with playing Denver close at home earlier this season, a 28-20 setback for the Chargers.
“It's all about winning,” he said. “I don't care about playing close to Denver. We lost the game. You learn some things, but I'm not in this business to play close. We are trying to win. We're going [in] to beat Denver on Thursday night, not play close.”