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New York’s Eli Manning earning the title of ‘elite quarterback’

11.02.11 at 7:35 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When he was asked Wednesday afternoon what part of Eli Manning‘€™s game has improved the most over the years, Giants coach Tom Coughlin — who has coached Manning since he arrived in the NFL since 2004 — was quick to answer.

‘€œI think that he’€™s demonstrated over the course of this season — with the exception of the one game with the multiple turnovers — that he really has focused on taking care of the football and making good decisions. Good judgment. (He’€™s been) prepared to throw the ball away if necessary and not jeopardize our chances for success by having the ball,’€ Coughlin said. ‘€œI think he’€™s really worked hard at this.’€

The numbers certainly bear out Coughlin’€™s statement. The quarterback has 13 touchdown passes and only five interceptions this season, with three of those picks coming in a stinker of a game out in Seattle (a 36-25 loss to the Seahawks). Contrasted with his numbers from previous years — where he had four seasons of at least 17 interceptions, including a career-high 25 in 2010 — it certainly appears that Manning has learned the benefits of ball security.

‘€œHe’€™s accurate, he’€™s got a good arm, he makes good decisions,’€ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick of Manning. ‘€œHe’€™s a productive passer. He’€™s led their team to a lot of successful offensive plays and wins, so that’€™s how you measure a quarterback.’€

Manning’€™s career has been characterized a lot of ways, but it certainly hasn’€™t been boring. The Ole Miss product was selected by the Chargers on draft day in 2004, but was quickly dealt to the Giants. A rocky first few seasons at the center of an occasionally dysfunctional team gave way to an unlikely playoff run in 2007, where New York took off late in the year and ended up shocking the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

And while he’€™s rarely mentioned among the elite quarterbacks in the game, he’€™s certainly put together an impressive season this year ‘€“ he’€™s in the Top 10 in every major passing category, including second in yards per attempt (8.83), third in quarterback rating (102.1) and fourth in the league in passing yards per game (287.6).

But this year, he’€™s been at his best late. Four of the team’€™s five wins this season have come in the fourth quarter, and his fourth-quarter numbers are best in the league — he’€™s 49-for-70 passes for 710 yards and six touchdowns in the fourth, averaging 10.14 yards per attempt.

Like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, the 30-year-old Manning has the good fortune of having been in the same system with the same coach for an extended period. He’€™s played for Coughlin since 2004, and acknowledges that sort of stability has played a large part in his success.

‘€œI’€™ve been fortunate to be in the same offense since I’€™ve been with the Giants,’€ he said. ‘€œYou understand the ins-and-outs, you understand your protections, you understand when you have problems with versus a certain play if they’€™re playing a certain defense and knowing where to go with the ball when certain things come up. I think our receivers have done a good job getting open and understanding the rhythm of our offense as well.’€

In a radio interview this summer, he took it a step further, comparing himself to Brady by saying he ‘€œconsiders (himself) in (Brady’€™s) class.’€

‘€œTom Brady is a great quarterback. He’€™s a great player, and what you’€™ve seen with him is he’€™s gotten better every year. He started off winning championships, and I think he’€™s a better quarterback now than what he was, in all honesty, when he was winning those championships,’€ Manning said in August.

‘€œI think now he’€™s grown up and gotten better every year, and that’€™s what I’€™m trying to do. I kind of hope these next seven years of my quarterback days are my best.’€

The interview made big headlines, but Manning said Wednesday he didn’€™t regret making the statement.

‘€œThe question was if I thought I was an elite quarterback, and basically, I was just saying that I did,’€ Manning said. ‘€œI’€™m usually not into the business of ranking and rating quarterbacks, or comparing myself to other guys. But looking back, I thought I gave an honest answer, and I don’€™t regret anything.

‘€œI just didn’€™t worry about it,’€ he added. ‘€œIt caught a lot of attention. After doing the interview, you kind of think back to see if you said anything that might cause attention. I didn’€™t think that would be a big deal. I think there were circumstances where not a whole lot was going on in sports at the time, just some training camps and no games yet. So I think sometimes it’€™s just depending on the timing of things that they have to have something to talk about in the sports world.’€

Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Eli Manning, Tom Brady
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