‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
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Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.” He’ll be covering football throughout the season.
If the last two games against Green Bay and Dallas have taught us anything about the Giants’ postseason hopes, it is that all of them — and we mean ALL of them — rest on the shoulders of one Elisha Nelson Manning.
Despite the monster play of Jason Pierre-Paul up front, it has become obvious that the 7-6 NFC East leaders’ defense can’t squash a fly in the fourth quarter. Whether it’s poor run defense, young players making mistakes, or miscommunication among two veteran defensive backs who should know better, the defense looks more like a sieve than the proud unit that used to shut down late fourth-quarter drives like the ones Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo mounted the past two weeks.
Were it not for the lengthy fingertips of Pierre-Paul (note to injured Osi Umenyiora: take your time. Tom Coughlin and Perry Fewell would be out of their minds to take the big, agile defensive end out of a starting role now), Dan Bailey’s second 47-yard attempt might have gone through to force overtime. And the way the Giants defense was playing, they probably would have lost their fifth straight, along with their season.
But the Giants can ill-afford to have it come down to a rarity like Pierre-Paul’s deflection these last three games. What the Giants need now is an overall strong defense, and this unit is just too battered to do a consistent job.
On top of the screwups, we now have Justin Tuck missing a quarter and a half with a toe problem. He hasn‘t been the same since he suffered those neck and groin injuries, and a bad toe will make this warrior even less effective.
All of that leaves us with Manning, and he’s not a bad choice at all the way he’s playing. The object from here on in will be to outscore opponents — not in the clichéd one-point more than they have when the clock runs out, but to turn the scoreboard into a Las Vegas slot machine. Their 37 Sunday marked their highest output this season, next to the 35 they put up in the Green Bay loss.
With Manning looking downfield for big plays to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, as he has the last two games, and Mario Manningham in Dallas, the passing offense has taken on a different flavor. Throw it deep and you might just get a completion, or a penalty.
The defensive inefficiency has placed tremendous pressure on Manning to play well. But that’s the thing about this kid. Pressure doesn’t seem to get to him. There’s a reason he’s just tied the jointly-held NFL record, set by Johnny Unitas in 1959 and tied by brother Peyton in 2006, with 14 fourth-quarter touchdown passes this year. And there’s good reason to believe that by season’s end, he’ll own that mark outright.
There’s a reason Hakeem Nicks, with 154 receiving yards, joined Victor Cruz in the 1,000-yard club Sunday, making them the first Giants duo in history to accomplish that feat in the same season.
It’s because Manning is a cool customer. Throw a deflected pickoff that leads to a touchdown to make it a 12-point game with 5:24 left? He comes back and bangs out two touchdown drives in the final 3:14.
Mario Manningham drops an easy one in the end zone? He goes to Jake Ballard for 18 down to the 1, and then hands it twice to Brandon Jacobs for the winning touchdown.
Some players said he spent much of the week cracking jokes in the locker room, that goofy smile on his face. That was after the Giants’ losing streak reached four games.
Little fazes him, which is why Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride love him. Pressure? He can handle it.
Which is why the offense needs to be as sure-handed as ever, as sharp as ever in the running game, as protective as ever in pass protection that DeMarcus Ware and the rest of his marauders without a sack in Cowboys Stadium.
It’s all on Manning’s shoulders now, because he simply can’t rely on the defense to hold a lead.
Is the Giants’ success directly tied to the success of Manning? Leave a comment below.