Fennelly: Eli Proves His Worth As Giants Nearly Upset Playoff-Bound Eagles

When the 2-11 Giants took the field at MetLife Stadium on Sunday to take on the 11-2 Philadelphia Eagles, one would have been hard pressed to figure out who was the home team and who were the visitors. The soaring Eagles were represented by a huge swath of their faithful while Giant fans, with the exception of the diehards, decided to either stay home or sell their tickets off on the secondary market. The unofficial estimate was that the building was filled with about sixty-percent Eagles fans.

When these two teams play records usually do not matter and Sunday was no exception. The Giants, suffering through perhaps the worst season in franchise history in which just about everything has gone wrong, came out unexpectedly sharp and focused and jumped out to a 20-7 lead early in the second quarter. The Eagles quickly got back into the game with two unanswered touchdowns to take a 21-20 lead. The Giants’ Aldrick Rosas put the Giants back ahead, 23-21, with a field goal right before the half.

Eagles fans, who were uncertain how their team would respond with backup QB Nick Files filling in for the injured Carson Wentz, were nervous. The Giants were a wounded animal, for sure, but they had their teeth sharpened for this one. They also had a vintage Eli Manning under center, working fast and unbridled by the coaching staff. By game’s end, he would rack up 434 passing yards and three touchdowns. The game ended with the Giants in the red zone and Manning firing away until the final gun. The Eagles held on to win, 34-29, in a game that opened everyone’s eyes when it came to where the Giants stood as a franchise. The offense can score (when allowed to do so) and the defense and special teams are a mess.

Manning has been the poster boy for the much of the Giants’ misery this year but on Sunday he showed how wrong that perception is. He was clearly the best and most confident player on the field. Giants CEO John Mara wants to keep Eli around and now he has the capital to make that case. Manning was not the problem all along, it seems. It was everything else.

Many people around the league have stated that Manning still “has a lot of good football left in him” and that he could go to a team needing a QB and take them to the next level. The thinking here is, why can’t that team be the Giants? Mara is already thinking that. After all, it is likely his fault the Giants are on the cusp of setting a franchise record for losses in the first place. He’s smart enough to know that he has three players he needs to keep, now: Manning, WR Odell BeckhamJr., safety Landon Collins. Everyone else is in play.

At 2-12, the Giants are currently on pace to select second in the 2018 NFL Draft, one that is chock full of QB studs. They almost have to pick one. But without getting a preview of rookie Davis Webb, the Giants will be flying blind going into that draft. Webb is not ready to displace Manning at the moment but that was never the plan. The Giants have always had Eli penciled in at QB through the 2019 season. There is no reason to turn the page on this very special man right here and right now because everyone around him has let him down.

Mara will hire a new GM soon (former Giants personnel guru Dave Gettleman interviews this week) and then a new head coach will be brought in. Mara vows to allow the new GM the latitude to do what they deem is best but keeping Manning is making a ton of sense to him right now. Anyone who watched NFL games this past weekend saw veteran franchise QBs such as Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Cam Newton et al. their teams to victories or near victories. San Francisco is undefeated with Jimmy Garappolo under center.

The Giants don’t need to look any further for their starting quarterback. Manning is the guy. He has been poorly served by the Giants by hiring a neophyte as head coach and not addressing the offensive line and running game. In addition, the offensive game plan was not tailored to Manning’s strengths, which are working quickly and throwing the ball downfield, not this dink and dunk garbage Ben McAdoo had him doing. On Sunday, interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan decided to turn Eli loose, and we all got to see what we’ve been missing the past several years. The gunslinger was back and the Giants, although they lost, were fun to watch again.

The new GM will have a tough decision to make. Mara will certainly guide him by mentioning he wants to keep Eli around and also wants to know what he has in Webb. That could trigger the Giants to trade that high pick for a package of selections and players. They need quantity as well as quality at this point. Their defense is horrible and was markedly worse when their only hammer, Collins, went down early on Sunday with an ankle injury. On special teams the Giants were almost laughable as they allowed the Eagles to block a PAT, a punt and a field goal.

After a season of hellish coincidences and what Mara calls, “a perfect storm of events,” a housecleaning is in order but the one guy who should survive the carnage should be Manning.

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