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'Assassin' Eli has sights set on Atlanta

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning may have unintentionally made a ton of noise during the preseason when he said he considered himself an elite quarterback.

But opponents should worry about him when he looks calm, collected and unaffected by anything.

"A lot of people think because he is meek, he doesn't come across as aggressive or you don't think he is confident," said Giants backup quarterback David Carr. "But he is supremely confident in what he can do."

"Staying even keel, going out and doing his job, assassin-like mentality," Carr added to describe Manning's cool demeanor. "If you looked at him on the sideline, you would never know what the score was. Not a lot of guys like that."

As the New York Giants prepare to face the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC wild-card game on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, they return to the postseason with a former Super Bowl MVP quarterback who is playing at his best. Opponents have learned the hard way this season that no matter what the lead may be in the fourth quarter, Manning can quietly erase it in a matter of minutes.

And that is just one reason why the Giants are swelling with confidence despite needing to win the last two games of the season to get into the postseason.

"He has proven himself week in and week out and he continues to put the numbers up and be that quarterback that he says he is," safety Antrel Rolle said.

Manning shattered his career best with 4,933 yards -- the fourth-most in the NFL this season -- to go along with 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions this season.

He also has had success against Atlanta, going 4-1 lifetime against the Falcons, including winning the last three meetings. His only loss to Atlanta came in 2004, during his rookie season.

The last time he played the Falcons, in 2009, Manning threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in a 34-31 win at home.

Rolle was asked to remember what it was like to play against Manning when he was in the Arizona secondary.

"He's always been a very fierce competitor and he strives for greatness," Rolle said. "There's really no way we can really try to just take Eli out of his game. He is mentally and physically strong and he is going to make his throws. That is what we knew, he is going to be Eli Manning and you got to go out there and try to take away the other guys."

What has Manning excited about this postseason are "the other guys" he has in his arsenal. Victor Cruz has emerged as one of the premier playmakers in the NFL under his tutelage. Cruz has five touchdown catches of at least 65 yards.

The Giants led the NFL with 18 completions of 40 or more yards this season and are looking for more big plays against Atlanta's defense, which finished the year 20th against the pass.

"It's been nice to have all of our weapons this past week," said Manning, who also got injured tight end Jake Ballard (knee) back in a limited practice on Wednesday. "From an offensive standpoint, everybody is getting back, healthy. We're doing some really good things. We have to build off of that."

Manning said the Atlanta defense is a well-coached and sound unit that does not make mistakes.

"Everybody is going to be lined up," Manning said. "Everybody is going to be in the right technique. It's a matter of the offensive line blocking up. They do have good pass-rushers. They do a good job of getting interceptions and turnovers. So it's just a matter of everybody knowing their assignment and going out there and doing it better than Atlanta."

And if it goes down to the fourth quarter as so many games have this season for the Giants, the Falcons will face the most clutch fourth-quarter quarterback this season. Manning has led the Giants to six fourth-quarter victories this season.

Manning has also thrown 15 fourth-quarter touchdowns this season, breaking an NFL record that was previously held by Johnny Unitas (1959) and Peyton Manning (2002).

"I think it's one of those stats that you didn't even know existed until all of a sudden it came up this year," Manning said. "Unfortunately we've been down some in the fourth quarter where we've had to score points and score touchdowns. So that's what has led to having so many touchdowns in the fourth quarter."

Whether the Giants are up or down in the last quarter, they'll ride Manning, who has a calming, confident influence over his teammates in pressure-packed situations.

"You get around athletes, very competitive people and he is super competitive, but his best attribute is staying even keel for the team," Carr said. "[Teammates] realize how good a football player he is and for him to come out and say [he is elite] is good to see. [But] if you are around him, you know he is confident and he doesn't necessarily have to come out and say it."