by Ryan Isley
Remember just a few short months before the 2012 NFL season when the thought of Eli Manning being an elite quarterback was the joke of the league?
Boy, how far we have come.
When asked on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York 1050 if he was in the same class as Tom Brady, Eli Manning said what any self-respecting quarterback would say – he said yes.
While everyone was busy laughing and asking how in the world Manning could make such a statement, Manning went about his business as usual and got his Giants into the playoffs by winning the NFC East, despite most of America giving them no chance in a division with the Dallas Cowboys and the revamped Philadelphia Eagles.
After getting the team into the playoffs, Manning did what he does best – perform in the clutch.
Manning and the Giants beat the Atlanta Falcons 24-2 at home in the divisional round as Manning was 23-for-32 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Most thought that would be the end of the road for New York, who then traveled to Lambeau Field to take on the 15-1 Green Bay Packers, led by eventual NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. Manning had other ideas, however, as he outplayed Rodgers and led the Giants to a 37-20 rout of the top seed. Manning was 21-for-33 for 330 yards and three touchdowns to one interception. Rodgers was 26-for-46 for 264 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
That win didn’t prove much to many people it seems, as most people picked the San Francisco 49ers to end the Giants season in the NFC championship game. It wasn’t to be, as the Giants won 20-17 in overtime behind Manning’s 316 yards passing and two touchdowns against one of the league’s premier defenses.
That run through the NFC playoffs set up yet another meeting between Manning and Brady, with Manning getting the better of the quarterback he said he was in the same class with each of last two times the teams met.
Manning once again outplayed Brady, completing 30-of-40 passes for 296 yards and one touchdown as the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI 21-17. Manning was clutch once again when the Giants needed him to be, as he completed 10-of-15 passes for 118 yards, including 5-of-6 for 74 yards on the final drive that turned out to be the game-winning drive for the Giants.
The signature moment of the final drive came on the first play, when Manning found Mario Manningham down the left side for a 38-yard catch that became the highlight of the Super Bowl. While everyone was quick to talk of how great the catch was, the pass was just as spectacular, if not better. Manning put the ball in a spot in which the only person who could catch it was Manningham, as the cornerback had safety help coming over.
The final drive and the clutch gene of Manning should come as no surprise however, if you have watched any football over this season and in the past few seasons. It wasn’t always easy this season for the Giants, but when they were struggling, it was Manning who kept them in game after game by owning the fourth quarter by tossing an NFL-record 15 touchdown passes and finishing with a fourth quarter quarterback rating of 110.
Manning was again asked about his comment about being in the same class as Brady the night after the Super Bowl, when he was a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman when Letterman asked Manning what the whole situation was about and Manning showed a pretty good sense of humor.
Manning: “I think I got set up a little bit. It’s like someone asking you if you are an elite talk show host. I am sure you think you are pretty good at this.”
Letterman: “High minors. I am high minors my friend. Now you can just say let me see, which of the Super Bowl MVP rings (would you like to see). Maybe you can answer that question yourself big mouth.”
With the heroics, Manning is now just the fifth player to win multiple Super Bowl MVP awards, joining Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Brady. The four players he joined are either already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with Brady being a sure fire Hall of Famer once his career is over.
Manning is now 8-3 in his career in the postseason and has won eight of his last nine starts, including two Super Bowls. Of those eight wins, six of them have come on the road (an NFL record for a quarterback) and two have come on neutral ground in the Super Bowl.
Compare Manning’s 8-3 record and .727 winning percentage to some of the quarterbacks who are looked at as the best of today. Brady is now 16-6 for the same exact winning percentage and is now 3-2 in Super Bowls. Ben Roethlisberger is 10-4 for a winning percentage of .714 and is 2-1 in the Super Bowl. Drew Brees is 5-4 and Aaron Rodgers is 4-2 with each holding a record of 1-0 in Super Bowls. Eli’s brother Peyton Manning is just 9-10 in his career in the postseason with a record of 1-1 in the Super Bowl.
In fact, the only quarterbacks with 10 or more postseason starts in NFL history with a better winning percentage than Eli are Starr (9-1, .900), Jim Plunkett (8-2, .800), Bradshaw (14-5, .737) and Troy Aikman (11-4, .733).
Starr, Bradshaw, Montana, and Aikman were all first ballot Hall of Famers and Brady will most certainly be a first ballot Hall of Famer when his career is over.
How is that for answering the question about being an elite quarterback? The only one laughing now is Eli because the joke is on everyone who doubted him.