Eli has finally cracked under pressure
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Win, lose or draw, Eli Manning was never going to let you see him sweat. That was the scouting report delivered by everyone from his father to his brothers, his coaches to his critics.
He might lose some games, and he might throw some interceptions, and he might look really, really ugly doing both. But the ultimate room-temperature quarterback would never, ever let the magnitude of his role -- face of the New York Giants franchise -- adversely impact his play.
No, Eli Manning was never going to crack. He proved it in two breathless Super Bowl victories over Tom Brady, Houdini-ing his way out of a sure takedown to deliver the absurd David Tyree heave in one, and firing a pass out of any quarterback's dreams to Mario Manningham in the other.
Was Eli even nervous in either situation as 100 million people watched? Shoot, the team doctor might've checked him for a pulse just to make sure he was still breathing.
But there was Manning on Sunday in MetLife Stadium, throwing interceptions on three consecutive fourth-quarter drives to blow a must-have game against the unworthy Philadelphia Eagles, prompting his coach and protector, Tom Coughlin, to come as close to publicly blaming Eli for a defeat as he ever has.
Coughlin had no choice. Manning was the third-best quarterback on the field, taking the bronze medal behind Michael Vick (first half) and Nick Foles (second half) on a day when the stakes demanded nothing less than gold.
Foles turned two Manning picks into touchdowns, not the other way around, and after this devastating 36-21 loss was complete, Coughlin grabbed his quarterback in the locker room to tell him that he's trying too hard. In effect, the coach was telling Manning that he's let this 0-5 start get to him.
"He's way, way too good a player to have these kinds of things happen," Coughlin said in his news conference.
Coaching the first Giants team in a non-strike year to start 0-5 since 1979, Coughlin called a couple of Eli's errors "terrible." Manning became the first NFL quarterback to commit three intentional grounding penalties in a game all year, penalties that Coughlin said "just hurt so badly."
The coach kept coming back to those wild choices and wayward throws in the fourth. Under pressure, Manning stepped up and bounced a panic throw off a lineman's helmet and into the hands of Mychal Kendricks, this before Foles hit Brent Celek on a 25-yard scoring pass on the very next play.
Eli responded on the next possession by rolling right and -- while being hauled to the ground -- trying to force a down-the-middle strike to Victor Cruz, who allowed Brandon Boykin to beat him to the ball. After Foles found DeSean Jackson for a 5-yard touchdown, Manning completed his unholy trinity by hitting Eagles cornerback Cary Williams between the numbers.
"It all comes down to the interceptions," Coughlin said. "Two of them were just … almost unbelievable."
"I honestly believe that he's trying so hard to get us a win," Coughlin said, "he's almost put too much on himself. He keeps it all pretty much inside. I'm not making excuses. … I think you do have to sometimes just cover the ball up and go down."
But here's the thing: It's tough to cover up the ball and go down when you are 0-4, and when you have no running game, and when your offensive line is falling part, and when your own pass rush is dormant, and when your team has been outscored 69-7 in its previous two games.
It's tough to cover up the ball and go down when you're the guy with the $100 million deal, and when you're the two-time Super Bowl MVP who would kill for a shot at a third ring in your own building in February.
"Sometimes you've got to play to the circumstances of the game," Manning said, "and as a competitor though, that's how you're making plays. You're throwing the ball and sometimes you're scrambling around, you're running around and you make plays. And then sometimes it hurts you.
"But it's hard as a competitor. … When do you have to turn off the competitive edge and play smart?"
If he wanted to be a wise guy, Eli could've said, Hey, I didn't hear anyone complaining when I threw up that prayer to Tyree.
"Sometimes you get away with it," Manning said. "You have to make some of those throws to be in the NFL."
The Giants' quarterback has already made a full career's worth of big throws, winning one more ring than his more talented brother, Peyton. But in good times and in bad, Eli has always come across as an unflappable figure, a Derek Jeter-Mariano Rivera kind of figure in a most volatile marketplace.
Just as Jeter and Rivera were never rattled by the New York, New York pressures and noise around them, Manning remained rock-solid in his approach. Until Sunday. Until all this losing turned him into Mark Sanchez.
Though he cited a couple of dropped long balls (without naming the culprit, Rueben Randle) as plays that needed to be made, Manning took the hit for the interceptions and for failing to win a home game against a 1-3 team with a lousy defense, a 1-3 team that lost its own starter, Vick, to a hamstring injury, after he'd hurt the Giants on the ground and through the air.
"I've got to start playing better football," Eli said, "and make the throws and put our team in a better situation and win some games. … I know I can't keep turning the ball over."
Especially when those turnovers had what Coughlin called a "very demoralizing" impact on the team. Manning denied that he's feeling overburdened by his responsibilities, and that he's allowing the pressures of his job to impair his decision-making, but his coach wasn't so sure.
"I don't know what the answer is to that question," Coughlin said. "He never changes throughout the course of the week. As a matter of fact, he's practiced really well for the last couple of weeks, very much in control of everything.
"I do think he's trying so hard to make something happen, it's going out the other end."
Yes, Manning had plenty of help in losing this one to the Eagles, the Giants' 10th defeat in their past 13 games. But Trumaine McBride, who had a costly whiff on what should've been an interception, isn't anyone's idea of a franchise player.
Eli is the one playing the big position and pulling in the big bucks. He's the one with a dozen interceptions against eight touchdown passes, the one who heard a rousing chorus of boos as he left the field.
It's his team, his ball, his burden. And for the first time, with Peyton the only Manning worthy of the MetLife Stadium Super Bowl, it appears Eli, the family's only two-time champ, has cracked under that burden.