|Eli has a Super Bowl ring, but he's not Peyton|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 28 August 2008 12:08|
Now after an improbable run to a Super Bowl in which he was named the MVP, the Giants quarterback is being listed just below Tom Brady and his brother Peyton among the league's elite.
In other words, Eli is finally fulfilling the great expectations of his background and draft position - first family of quarterbacks and first overall pick in the NFL draft.
Eli was a champion in his fourth season. That's five years earlier than brother Peyton, who ``couldn't win the big one'' until Indianapolis' Super Bowl victory following the 2006 season, his ninth in the NFL.
The comparison is probably unfair to both siblings. Peyton, the more voluble, dislikes talking about his brother as a rival and Eli, five years younger, simply shrugs when asked.
They are similar in some ways. They have the same parents and the same build. And when Eli is lined up behind center, his arm signals and demeanor often resemble Peyton, although there are fewer audibles and fewer chances to improvise in New York's offense than in Indy's.
But they are not clones.
In an ideal world, each would probably be better off in the other's city - the gregarious and flippant Peyton in New York, the humble-to-a-fault Eli in Indianapolis. Eli is said to be more like his mother Olivia and Peyton more like father Archie, who probably had as much talent as a QB as either son but was buried for most of his 14-season NFL career with a close-to-hopeless New Orleans team.
Peyton is proud of the family's consecutive Super Bowl titles and consecutive MVPs, which has put the Manning brothers on the cover of the 2007 and 2008 NFL media guides. But he's also uncomfortable with the continuous comparison.
``I think I'm the wrong guy to ask about that. Obviously, we are brothers. And now there are even more similarities because we've both proven we have the ability to win a championship,'' he says, without having to add the ``But ...''
One major difference is each brother's progression to stardom.
Peyton made the league's elite in his second season, playing indoors with receivers like Marvin Harrison in an offense designed by Tom Moore, the only offensive coordinator he's ever had. His only burden: he struggled in the playoffs, especially outdoors against a New England team that always seemed to find a way to make him look bad.
It took him much of his early career to find his game in a run-oriented offense.
Then, in five games at the end of last season, he went from an object of ridicule to the star he was supposed to be from Day 1. His playoff performance made it easy to forget that in some circles he was a budding bust who tied for the league lead last year in interceptions with 20.
The knocks? His tendency to throw off his back foot into coverage. But also his ``body language'' and his alleged lack of leadership. Foremost among his critics: former teammate Tiki Barber, who early last season said on NBC that Eli's attempts to lead the Giants offense were ``comical.''
And while he has yet to put together a consistent full season, there's little doubt among his teammates now that Eli's the man. His retort to Barber showed that he has Peyton's ability at the subtle jab. ``I guess I'm just happy for Tiki that he's making a smooth transition into the TV world,'' Eli said. ``I'll be interested to see if he has anything to say about a team besides the Giants ...''
His teammates know the identity of their offensive leader. It was clear even before training camp opened in Albany.
``When you win that Super Bowl MVP trophy, I think you take ownership of a lot of things. You not only get the accolade, but the reins of the team, too,'' says center Shaun O'Hara.
``I think Eli has always been confident in his abilities and confident in himself. But I think there is a progression and we talked about it this time last year. I know a lot of people had him on the hot seat. The great thing about Eli is that he has been consistent. He has always put in the time and work. I think that is what his teammates admire about him.''
``Consistent'' is the key word because it's what he hasn't been.
When Eli has been criticized, it's for alternating good games and bad ones, not unusual for young quarterbacks.
He's even mixed good and bad within games, such as one in Chicago last season when he was awful early - then led the Giants to two touchdowns in the final seven minutes of a 21-16 win.
In the last five games, his ratio of TDs to INTs was 10-2. That includes four TD passes in the regular-season finale, a 38-35 loss to the Patriots that almost deprived New England of its unbeaten regular season. He had six TDs to one interception in the playoffs - and that was on a ball that bounced off Steve Smith's hands in the Super Bowl, more Smith's fault than Eli's.
In fact, Eli's consistent strength has been the ability to play well at the most important times. Late in games and halfs, he arguably can be as good as his brother and Brady or past masters like Joe Montana, John Elway and Dan Marino.
The world saw it in the game-winning Super Bowl drive that was capped by a 13-yard TD pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left. The drive also included an escape by Eli from what seemed like a sure sack by the Patriots to complete a 32-yard pass that David Tyree caught against his helmet. Everyone remembers the Tyree catch, but the Manning escape was just as spectacular: Eli is, in fact, more athletic than his brother.
Nor would the Giants have gotten to the Super Bowl had not Eli driven them to a touchdown in 43 seconds late in the first half of their second-round playoff win in Dallas. It came after the Cowboys had used up more than 10 minutes to take a 14-7 lead and deflated Dallas as much as it gave New York a lift en route to a 21-17 victory.
That ability has always been there.
Few remember Eli's first victory, in the final game of the 2004 season.
It was 28-24 over Dallas, a game in which the Giants came from behind with 21 fourth-quarter points. The winning TD was on a 3-yard run with 11 seconds left when Eli audibiled into a spread, then gave the ball to Barber to run through the open middle, a risky call because New York had no timeouts left.
Then there was a 2006 game in Philadelphia, which the Giants trailed 24-7 after three quarters. Eli completed 16 of his last 17 passes - the only incomplete pass was a spike. The Giants tied it in the fourth quarter then won in overtime on a Manning-Burress connection.
Eli shrugs at that, as he does at most things.
``I don't think I've changed that much,'' he says. ``I know there was criticism, but it never affected me. I just had to continue to work hard.''
That's Eli, who prefers cliches to anything that will reveal the real person behind the football facade.
His personality won't change - but he's still getting better as a player.
``I think that the thing that's encouraging to me is that he's throwing the ball better than he did a year ago,'' says Chris Palmer, the Giants quarterbacks coach. ``I don't think a quarterback reaches his full potential until his sixth or seventh year.''
This is Eli's fifth.
His Super Bowl performance leaves people regarding him as an elite quarterback. Now he gets the chance to prove it.