Just when you thought the reigning Super Bowl champs were about to face a 0-2 start to their season and consequently cause many to question how well they are going to defend their title, Manning and his Giants reminded the nation just why they have found a way to be a middle-of-the-pack elite franchise the past six years.
The New York Giants took down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41-34 and they did so in a wild and unorthodox manner.
Eli Manning sometimes look like one of the top quarterbacks in the league while other times he looks like he’s on the level of Brandon Weeden. How else do you explain the always-changing confused faces he displays during games? He is one quarterback that is difficult to figure out.
On Sunday afternoon, he gave fans a taste of two types of Eli.
Through the first half of play, he allowed his team to get in a 24-13 hole as he handed his opponent three easy interceptions – one returned for a touchdown – which would increase to 27-13 after the Bucaneers’ first drive in the second half. He looked nothing like the player that had nine touchdowns and only one interception through four 2011 playoff games.
Then, it happened. Eli pulled an Eli. He came out when his team was down and scorched the Tampa Bay defense by throwing for 295 passing yards in the second half – the eighth most all-time. But when you narrow it down to just the fourth quarter, his play was even more baffling. Outscoring the Bucs 25-7, Manning put the team on his back with four scoring drives on four possessions consisting of big throw after big throw. Even though the other Manning brother has the habit of making his teammates look better than they really are, he did just that in this comeback. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz ended with 378 receiving yards (164 of them being in the fourth quarter) and 21 catches. All of this gave Manning a career-high total of 510 passing yards. 510. Whoa.
The Giants absolutely needed this win. Since conferences were expanded in 1990, facing an 0-2 hole gives your team an 11.9 percent chance of making the playoffs. In a division with the griffining Redskins, undefeated and determined Eagles and dangerous (maybe?) Cowboys, those odds would probably be even lower.
Well, Giants nation doesn’t have to worry about that number because these Giants just can’t seem to get out of this certain groove – for better or for worse.
Looking simply at the game level, the Giants and Manning play best in the fourth quarter – no question. Since their Super Bowl season in 2007, Manning has 17 fourth quarter comebacks (seven last year) and 19 game-winning drives (eight last year). There is some switch in his football system that clicks once the last 15 minutes of the game are upon him. His passes become tighter and his decisions become wiser. No matter how he has played through the first three quarters of the game, Tom Coughlin can still have hope for a W.
Once you take a step back and look at this situation from a seasonal level, this odd sort of differentiation between level of play can still be applied. Going into both the 2007 and 2011 playoffs as a wild-card team, they didn’t look to be the best team. In fact, they didn’t even look to be the “hot” team that has recently won so often in professional sports. In 2007, they finished the season 4-4, including a loss to the Patriots in the last week of the season. In 2011, they finished the season 3-5, which was compromised of four straight losses from Week 10 to Week 13. No signs pointing to Super Bowl ready.
You know what? They didn’t care. They went into the playoffs with the attitude that they could beat anyone and a quarterback with a clutch gene unlike any other, resulting in two different sets of expensive rings.
So we come full circle back to the second week of the 2012 NFL season and it feels like déjà vu. It’s a risky game to play this way, but it has obviously worked out for a mostly mediocre Giants team the past decade. They know how to turn that mediocrity into superiority right when it’s ready to change.
Can they do it again this year? We’ll just have to wait…
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