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'E' for effort

Poised Manning earned a passing grade in his debut

Posted: Monday November 22, 2004 11:01AM; Updated: Monday November 22, 2004 12:30PM
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Read more about Eli Manning's debut in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, which hits newsstands on Wednesday, Nov. 24.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- I liked what I saw out of Eli Manning Sunday. His numbers were only OK -- 17 of 37 passing, 162 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions -- but I thought one moment in the game was particularly significant. As did Falcons coach Jim Mora.

Third quarter. Manning had just thrown his first NFL touchdown pass, a six-yarder to Jeremy Shockey. But the rookie didn't run into the end zone and leap into Shockey's arms, or act overly excited. Manning simply jogged back to the bench and accepted congratulations from his teammates. Meanwhile Shockey spiked the ball in the end zone, and it bounded toward the end line. Ike Hilliard went and got the ball. Near the sideline, Hilliard gave it to Shockey, who presented it to Manning. With that odd, sort of sour look on his face -- first impressions are that he's just so flatline that nothing fazes him -- Manning took the pigskin like it was a practice ball in a May mini-camp drill.

"I saw that," said Mora, "and I just thought how impressive it was. It was like, 'There's more to do.'"

Assuming Manning stays upright and keeps the Giants' quarterback job for the next month, I can guarantee you no rookie signal-caller in NFL history will have a tougher opening five games than Manning. His first opponents: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Those teams were among the NFL's top five in sacks entering last weekend. No wonder, then, that when Archie Manning insisted last week this was a wonderful time for his son to get indoctrinated into the NFL, he didn't sound totally convincing.

Check out the tough defenses Manning will face:

NFL Defensive Rankings Entering Week 11
Date Game Sacks Points Allowed Total Defense
Nov. 21 Atlanta 14, Giants 10 4th (27) 17th (20.4) 21st (342.7)
Nov. 28 Philadelphia T-1st (28) 4th (16.9) 23rd (345.0)
Dec. 5 at Washington 18th (19) 3rd (16.7) 2nd (267.2)
Dec. 12 at Baltimore T-1st (28) 1st (14.4) 4th (283.7)
Dec. 18 Pittsburgh T-1st (28) 2nd (16.3) 1st (257.9)

There will be terrific pressure on Manning in the coming seasons. He has to play in Tabloidville. He has to live up to the No. 1-Overall-Draft-Pick thing. He has to play in his brother Peyton's monumental shadow. He has the pressure of his last name. He also has this whole Ben Roethlisberger thing to contend with. It looks as if Big Ben, who was drafted by a much better team, will never lose.

As Manning warmed up and started driving the Giants downfield, I thought: He has to get more comfortable throwing the ball into tight spaces. On second-and-goal from the Atlanta eight-yard line with seven minutes left, Manning dropped back, and Shockey flashed across his line of vision, a yard or two into the end zone, with what looked to be a slight edge on his coverage. Manning had a split second to laser a ball to Shockey, and sometimes this is as big an opening as you get in the NFL. But Manning pulled the ball down and, in the face of a heavy rush, threw it away.

You have to make that throw, kid.

But I'm nitpicking here. It was a B performance, pretty good for a first day.

I asked Atlanta cornerback Jason Webster (Trivia question: Who had the first interception of Eli Manning's career? Webster), who played against Peyton while a 49er, if he saw any of the same stuff in the brothers. "This game's hard, really hard," he said. "That position's hard. You can see Eli's tough mentally, like his brother. He has the confidence of his brother. You can see it out there. Both guys are in command back there. I know it's early, but I think Eli's going to be something special."

Quote of the Week

"They looked just like high school kids. That's the worst performance I've seen from our club in my 20 years of owning them."

--New Orleans owner Tom Benson, starting the Jim Haslett watch after the latest pathetic performance by the Saints, a 34-13 loss to Denver Sunday.

THE AWARDS SECTION

Offensive Player of the Week

p1_bledsoe.jpg
Drew Bledsoe rebounded from a three-intereception performance in Week 10 to lead the Bills to victory on Sunday.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Buffalo QB Drew Bledsoe. All of us in this business, on paper or in our heads, wrote Bledsoe's career obit last week, when he looked pathetic in a loss to the Patriots. What a difference a week makes. Against St. Louis, he looked totally in command, throwing three touchdown passes -- all to tight end Mark Campbell -- and engineering the Bills to a 37-17 win. Bledsoe was 15 of 24 for 185 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

Defensive Player of the Week

Pittsburgh ILB James Farrior. My Defensive Player of the Year through 11 weeks was at it again in Cincinnati, taking advantage of a really stupid pass by Carson Palmer, who threw into triple-coverage. Farrior picked it off and returned it 14 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter of a 19-14 Pittsburgh win. He also deflected two passes. This is an every-week thing with this guy.

Special-Teams Player of the Week

Detroit return man Eddie Drummond. This is getting ridiculous. Drummond's third return for touchdown in the last 25 minutes of game time -- a game-opening 92-kickoff return in Minnesota -- staked the Leos to a early lead. Remember his two punt returns for touchdown in the fourth quarter of the overtime loss to Jacksonville last week.

Coach of the Week

Buffalo special-teams coach Bobby April. One of the best special-teams coaches in the NFL for a long time, April didn't have his contract renewed by the Rams in the offseason and went looking for work. "You always have a little incentive against a team you worked for," he said after Buffalo's 37-17 win over the Rams, a victory in which his special teams unit had an 87-yard punt return for touchdown, a fumble-recovery on a St. Louis kick return, and a 53-yard punt return.

Goat of the Week

(tie) Fans who threw things in Auburn Hills, Mich., Friday night.

Players who fought them.

That's easy.

THE FINE FIFTEEN

1. Pittsburgh (9-1). They escaped a hostile jungle in Cincy, and if offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt learned one lesson from this game, it's this: Win with what got you here. The Steelers relied on Ben Roethlisberger instead of Jerome Bettis and Verron Haynes to bleed the clock in the second half.

2. New England (8-1). I could see Charlie Weis coaching the Saints next year.

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3. Philadelphia (9-1). Only took Donovan McNabb 47 minutes to find Mr. Security Blanket, Terrell Owens, for the insurance touchdown against Washington.

4. Indianapolis (7-3). Why in God's name was Peyton Manning in the game -- and throwing -- with 11 minutes left and a 35-point lead over Houston last week. And why in God's name was he in the game with a 31-point lead over Chicago this week and 17 minutes left?

5. Atlanta (8-2). By the time the Giants figured out how to stop Mike Vick, the Falcons had 14 points. They needed no more.

6. Green Bay (6-4). What great fun watching that Packers comeback in Houston. I kept thinking: Enjoy this. How many more of these does Brett Favre have in him?

7. Baltimore (7-3). Not to nitpick, but isn't 38 minutes too long to let Dallas hang around?

8. Denver (7-3). When they're right, the Broncos are really right. Beautiful touchdown pass by the enigmatic Jake Plummer to Ashley Lelie, and what can you say about Reuben Droughns? The guy runs for 160 every week.

9. New York Jets (7-3). Get well soon, Chad Pennington.

10. San Diego (7-3). I guess any win in the Black Hole is a good win, especially for a growing team like this one.

11. Minnesota (6-4). I watched a good portion of this game, and let's just say the Vikes are struggling without Randy Moss.

12. Seattle (6-4). The Dilfers didn't do a lot to impress, struggling to beat back mammals from south Florida.

13. Jacksonville (6-4). The final score of every non-Colts game between AFC South rivals is 16-13.

14. Detroit (4-6). You can count how many weeks the Leos have played poorly on two fingers.

15. St. Louis (5-5). I suppose a loss at Buffalo in November is forgivable, but a defense that makes the 2004 Drew Bledsoe look like the 1997 Drew Bledsoe is not going to be playing for very long in January.

FACTOID THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME

In my 50-minute interview with Terrell Owens last month, he mentioned the words "God," "Jesus," "prayer" or "Bible" a total of eight times.

I had the HBO producer of the interview, Jason Hehir, go back to our transcript to check that, because one of the first thoughts I had after watching Owens cavort with a seemingly naked bimbo on national TV was, "Didn't Owens four, five, six times during our interview refer to his strong belief in God and Christianity?"

Let us pray ... for the wisdom to understand that one.

AGGRAVATING/ENJOYABLE TRAVEL NOTE OF THE WEEK

Home game this weekend. Hallelujah. Good coffee. Home-PC advantage. My own bed. I had a couple of shopping chores to get done, including purchasing the Scrabble Deluxe Edition game at KB Toys in Wayne, N.J. So I'm in line with the box, and the woman in front of me, 38ish, turns to see what I've got and says, "Oh, I love Scrabble!"

"Great game," I say.

"I used to play it all the time," she says. "I love playing with a lot of people. I really don't like playing alone."

Speechless, I manage to say, "Sure."

In a case like that, when you know Scrabble cannot be played alone unless you're schizophrenic, you have a choice. You can either say, "You can't play Scrabble alone." Or you can say, "Have a good day."

"Have a good day," I say, as she walks to a register, leaving me in line.

CLICK HERE TO READ PETER KING'S 10 THINGS I THINK I THINK

Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL beat for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com. Monday Morning Quarterback appears in this space every week.

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