EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - The great unknown for the New York Giants in the playoffs is Eli Manning.
If Manning performs the way he did against the New England Patriots this past weekend and throws four touchdown passes or something close, the Giants (10-6) have a good shot at beating the Buccaneers (9-7) in Tampa in Sunday's NFC wild-card game.
The concern is that the bad Manning could show up in the postseason once again.
He is 0-for-2 in the playoffs and his performances have been nothing for anyone in the Manning family to brag about.
In losing wild-card games to Carolina and Philadelphia the past two years, Manning was 26-of-45 for 274 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. His quarterback ratings in those games were 35 and 85.6, respectively.
``I always feel that the quarterback has to go out there and play well to put their team in a situation to win,'' Manning said. ``Some of it is just managing the game well and not making mistakes, but also putting your team in situations to make plays and getting your players opportunities to make plays and change the momentum of the game.''
It's hard to gauge how much pressure Manning is feeling because his answers are so bland.
``My goals are the team goals,'' he said. ``For me, it is just to go out there and play well and get a win and win in the playoffs. I am not trying to judge myself by playoff wins and those things. I think if the team does well, then that is the most important thing.''
Linebacker Antonio Pierce says the poker-face personality makes Manning the perfect quarterback to play in the New York-metropolitan area.
``It doesn't matter what people say about him, what is thrown at him, how bad he plays, and what is being said or anything,'' Pierce said. ``He came out and played against one of the top five defenses, put up great numbers, was confident and made all the correct checks and everything he needed to, managed the game well, put us in a position to win the game.''
While the Giants had a heartbreaking 38-35 loss to the Patriots on Saturday, Manning was outstanding. He was 22-of-32 for 251 yards, with four scores and one interception. His 118.6 quarterback rating was his best of the season and topped the 116.8 by Tom Brady on his record-setting night.
Manning's four touchdowns tied his career high and his yardage total was his fifth highest of the season, not bad for a team that wants to run the ball.
In Manning's defense, the game against the Patriots was played on a pleasant night, the first good weather the Giants had in more than a month.
``We have been playing in some pretty cold and harsh conditions in the past, besides this past Saturday,'' Manning said. ``I think the team is looking forward to a nice day.''
Even with pleasant weather in Tampa, going against the Bucs might not be so nice. They gave up an NFC-low 270 points and had one of the top pass defenses in the league.
``They don't give up big plays by mental mistakes,'' Manning said. ``They are able to get a good pass rush whether they bring a blitz or just on the four-man rush. They mix up what they do enough and they are very sound and disciplined in their technique and in their coverage.''
Manning faced the Buccaneers last season at Giants Stadium, completing 16 of 31 throws for 154 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions in a game played in 20 mph winds. Tampa Bay gained 174 yards and never got inside the red zone with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback.
Jeff Garcia is the quarterback now, and that is a problem. He has personally knocked the Giants out of the playoffs in 2002 and 2006 with San Francisco and Philadelphia, respectively.
That's why it's so important for Manning to come up big on Sunday.
``If you stay in this business long enough, you're going to take heat, but he's a young guy and he's playing in a tough place,'' Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. ``He lost his tight end, Tiki Barber retired, I thought he hung in there and had a heck of a year, really.''
It won't be a heck of a year if the Giants lose another first-round playoff game.

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