Commentary

Superhero Eli inching closer to the elite

Manning not only continued excellent play Sunday, but kept his clutch mojo alive

Updated: October 31, 2011, 2:08 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Barely 20 minutes had gone by when the New York Giants found themselves staring at a disturbing 14-3 deficit against the winless Miami Dolphins.

It would've been easy for anybody to think that there was some sort of paranormal activity going on at MetLife Stadium on the day before Halloween.

But for the Giants, this actually is normal activity this season. Tom Coughlin's team has made a habit of living dangerously as its fifth straight game went down to the fourth quarter. Fortunately for the head coach, the Giants came back yet again with a 20-17 victory over the Dolphins.

Manning
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesEli Manning put the Giants on his back once again. This time, in the form of a late rally to beat the Dolphins.

"I'm starting to see gray hair," defensive end Justin Tuck said of the Giants' fourth-quarter trend. "That is a true statement actually."

It's a good thing for Tuck that Eli Manning keeps finding a telephone booth somewhere in the stadium to change into his Superhero costume. Manning not only continued his excellent play as of late but remained clutch.

Manning completed 31 of 45 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Trailing 17-10 and opening the fourth quarter with a third-and-9 at the Giants' own 27, Manning proceeded to complete six of his next seven passes and lead the Giants to 10 straight points.

He gave the Giants the lead for good with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz, who put a move on Will Allen and broke a tackle before showing off his salsa moves in the end zone with 5:58 left.

From there, the Giants' defense sacked Matt Moore four times and intercepted him once to secure the win.

"[Manning] definitely is a clutch player," center David Baas said of what he has learned about Manning in their short time together this season. "No matter what happens, he stays calm and is going to rise to the occasion. He is tremendous."

In his past five games, Manning has orchestrated comeback victories in the fourth quarter against Philadelphia, Arizona, Buffalo and now Miami. The only game he didn't pull out was against Seattle when he had the Giants on the verge of scoring the go-ahead touchdown before Cruz slipped and had a pass glance off his hand for a Seattle pick-six. The victory over Miami was the 18th time in Manning's career that he has rallied the Giants from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie to win.

On a day when the Giants were more sluggish than a zombie in the early going, Manning was sharp. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 186 yards in the first half and he would have had better stats if not for some dropped passes and penalties by his offensive teammates.

So while the defense was still having major problems stopping the run and missing tackles everywhere, the Giants always had Manning to eventually lift them out of trouble eventually.

"We have the utmost confidence in Eli," Tuck said. "That offense, they find a way to put us in a situation to win the ballgame. Even though we didn't score as much as the stats might say we should have, I felt as if our offense was in control the entire game."

And Manning is managing to do this without much of a running game. Through seven games, the Giants (5-2) have shown that they are going to struggle to run the ball this season. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for 60 yards rushing on 17 carries.

But when the offensive line can give Manning time in the pocket as it did in the second half, the Giants' offense can move the chains. The Giants gained 19 of their 21 first downs through the air and were able to convert half of their third downs, which is always big.

And perhaps the most important statistic for the Giants besides points is turnovers. For the second straight game, the Giants did not have a single turnover.

Perhaps it is no coincidence either that in the Giants' past four fourth-quarter victories, Manning did not throw an interception. He threw three in the loss to Seattle.

"I think we have learned our lesson about turnovers and how important it is as an offense not to put the ball on the ground or throw interceptions," Manning said. "Sometimes you don't convert on third downs, you have to take sacks, you have to throw the ball away … but overall [making that safe decisions] keeps us in games."

In the first quarter, Manning threw the ball away on a third-and-5 at the Dolphins' 7 and settled for a field goal instead of forcing something. Considering that the Giants won by three, Manning's decision-making proved to be big.

Last year, that might've been a different story since Manning threw 25 interceptions. He swore that he is not a 25-interception quarterback and so far he has five on the season.

Now Manning enters the most treacherous part of the schedule with a six-game stretch that includes New England, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Green Bay and Dallas.

Seeing the Patriots next week will conjure up memories of his greatest fourth-quarter comeback in Super Bowl XLII.

If Manning can pull off another fourth-quarter escape act in Tom Brady's backyard, the Giants quarterback may not have to answer questions about being elite.

"He is playing awesome," Tuck said. "He told you all at the beginning of this year that he is elite and I feel like he is proving that right now."

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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