By Ernie Palladino
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Eli Manning won’t admit it, because he never does. But the fact remains that he will determine whether the Giants make the playoffs or join their MetLife Stadium counterparts in that dreary, postseason peanut gallery.
Talk about defense and special teams all you wish, about how nobody was able to stop Matt Ryan last week, or how Lawrence Tynes has suddenly gone as cold as week-old bologna with missed field goals in his last three games after having blown just three the whole rest of the season.
As Manning goes, the Giants go. And lately, Manning hasn’t been going so great. Two picks in each of his last two games, though interceptions tend to get swept under the rug when you’re scoring 52 points against New Orleans.
It’s the two against Atlanta that should have people worried. If Manning doesn’t get things straightened out against Baltimore, the Giants could be looking at their second idle offseason in three years.
Problem is, controlling turnovers against the Ravens is not an easy task, not with Ed Reed in the defensive backfield. If Manning has any questions, he can just ask the Bengals, who were victimized this year by Reed’s 14th career touchdown return, a 34-yard bring-back of an interception.
But if Manning can look like the solid-enough quarterback he’s been most of the season and take care of the ball, the Giants will have a leg up on this major task of winning out and securing a playoff berth.
Manning, of course, won’t put that kind of pressure on himself.
“No, I think every game you go in wanting to play well,” Manning said. “A lot of things are going to be what I can do, what my teammates can do; it all comes around to everyone doing their own responsibility.”
For Manning, the responsibility has become quite simple. Take care of the ball.
Tom Coughlin knows that Manning, above all other players, makes that happen or not happen.
“Hopefully, because of the position Eli’s in, he’s going to lead us out of the inconsistencies,” Coughlin said.
There is a team across the way that must be green with envy (pun absolutely intended) for Coughlin’s position. The Jets have no playoff hopes remaining, have replaced a starting quarterback who has turned the ball over 50 times the last two years, and is now looking to move said quarterback and, by the way, his backup, in the offseason.
For those keeping score, that’s TWO quarterbacks on the way out. A former starter once regarded as “The Sanchise” and a so-called prized acquisition.
FROM ONE TEAM!
How the Jets would love to have Coughlin’s vantage point, where Rex Ryan might be able to talk about correcting “inconsistencies” rather than salvaging the last two games of a ruined season with a quarterback who wasn’t even active the past two weeks.
Such are the benefits of winning. But the weight falls just as heavily on the shoulders of this coach and this quarterback when a playoff lock turns into a chase on a single, ill-timed, no-show like last week’s.
It has been Manning’s history to play well under these circumstances, however. Fourth quarters and back-to-the-wall games, that’s him all over.
Last year, in a winner-take-all situation against the Cowboys, he came up with a 346-yard, three-touchdown performance against Dallas that led to yet another magical Super Bowl championship playoff run. A loss would have finished their season.
On Sunday, in Baltimore, they’ll need to win. Because if they lose and Washington beats Philadelphia, Dallas beats New Orleans, and Seattle wins or ties against San Francisco Sunday night, that’s it.
Coughlin had better hope Manning remains up to the task because the Giants will go only as far as Manning will take them.
Think Eli will pick it up and pick apart the Ravens? Be heard in the comments!