Elite or not, Eli Manning owns the Patriots
|11.06.11 at 10:28 pm ET|
“I consider myself in that class”
Oh, I mocked him. We all did.
Eli Manning in Tom Brady‘s class? Eli Manning, he of the league-high 25 INT’s last season (Brady had thrown 25 total picks since the end of the 2007 season)? Eli Manning, who has finished in the top 10 in passer rating exactly zero times in his career (Brady has never finished outside the top 10)? Eli Manning, who has made fewer Pro Bowls (one) than Brandon Meriweather?
Heading into Patriots-Giants I think we were all on board with the idea that Eli Manning was a top 10-12 QB in the league, a borderline franchise guy that had one of the great fourth quarters in Super Bowl history but hadn’t made that leap to superduperstardom. And, yup, he’s having a career season but he’s probably never going to be an MVP, an All-Pro. No Canton for Eli Manning, we get it.
So elite or not can and will be debated when it comes to Eli Manning, but after Giants 17, Patriots 14 and Giants 24, Patriots 20, what is very true and impossible to argue is this:
Eli Manning owns the Patriots.
You can make all the excuses you want — fluke catch by David Tyree, Manning was in the grasp, if Asante Samuel makes a play, Tracy White and Sergio Brown — but numbers are numbers. And in his last two fourth quarters against the Patriots, Eli Manning is 17-27 for 245 yards with four touchdown passes, zero INTs and two game-winning drives.
He outplayed Brady in Glendale nearly four years ago and he did it again in Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Manning was just OK (at best) through three quarters, same as Super Bowl XLII. But just like the 18-1, Manning took over the game in the final minutes.
After a Stephen Gostkowski 45-yard field goal gave the Patriots a 13-10 lead with 7:08 left, Manning completed four-of-five passes for 37 yards in a TD drive that ended with a perfect fade to Mario Manningham in the left corner of the end zone (points to Manningham for keeping both feet inbounds) to put the Giants ahead, 17-13, with 3:03 remaining.
A terrific drive, plenty clutch, but we aren’t talking Joe Montana vs. the Bengals or anything. We see stuff like this two or three times a week in this league.
Plus this: It looked it was going to be a footnote just a couple of minutes later. When Manningham was flagged for a (questionable) 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the TD and the Patriots moved the ball to the New York 15 in about 90 seconds, the story shifted back to Brady and the Patriots. And when Brady — who was awful for a great portion of the game on Sunday, a couple of terrible INTs and a handful of badly thrown balls — hit Rob Gronkowksi for a 14-yard TD on fourth-and-8 with 1:36 left to put the Patriots up, 20-17, it looked like a very mild revenge for Feb 3, 2008, was taking place.
Except Eli Manning happened. Again.
The Drive (OK, probably doesn’t deserve capital letters) started at the New York 20. Manning began with a 19-yard completion to Victor Cruz. A couple of incompletions followed, and then Manning made the kind of play that he seems to make against this Patriots team — a 28-yarder over the middle to Jake Ballard (still not sure what White was doing on the field in that spot).
Now we’ve got first-and-10 at the New England 33 and — this can be viewed, I guess, as praise for Manning or resignation of what this defense might be — you got the feeling that this wasn’t going to end well. And after a Manning 12-yard rush, Sergio Brown was hit for a pass interference call on Cruz (again, an easy call) that put the ball on the NE 1. Three plays later, Manning to Ballard for the TD and it was goodbye to Brady’s home win streak (not that you cared about it) and any lingering hope that the Patriots might have an easy ride to the postseason.
And, finally, goodbye to any notion that what Eli Manning did in Arizona was a fluke.
He’s not Aaron Rodgers (and no more debate, please — Rodgers is the best quarterback in football by 20 lengths). And, of course, on a historical level he’s not his brother.
Maybe he’ll never be in Tom Brady’s class.
But he owns Tom Brady’s team. Has anyone else ever been able to say that?