If you were a football newbie watching Deion Sanders interview Eli Manning before last night’s game versus Carolina, you may have had the impression that Cam Newton was the two-time Super Bowl MVP. At one point, Sanders asked Eli, and I’m paraphrasing, if there was extra impetus to win because he was playing against Cam Newton, who “lit up the league” last year. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t Newton have extra impetus to win since Eli Manning was standing on the other sideline? After all, he did throw for more yards and touchdowns than Newton.
Giants fans are used to the disrespect that seems to follow their quarterback wherever he goes. At no point do fans expect the media to suddenly appreciate and understand the brilliance of Eli Manning. In pregame, every single NFL Network analyst picked Carolina to beat the Giants. What was Eli going to do without Hakeem Nicks? How would he survive without Ahmad Bradshaw? These are easy questions to answer if you hadn’t had your head buried in the sand the last five years.
Eli carries his team. It’s not the defense, and the “vaunted” pass rush that seems to disappear all too often. It’s not Hakeem Nicks, who is a stud of a receiver, but utterly replaceable as long as Eli is firing from the pocket. Ramses Barden caught more passes last night than he had in his entire career. And let’s not forget names like Jake Ballard, Mario Manningham, and Kevin Boss. These players were the beneficiaries of having Eli Manning behind center. Have you heard Boss’s name since he left the Giants? How about Manningham’s?
The stats may not show it, but last night’s contest was dominated by the stoic Manning, who completed all but eight passes. He finished with 288 yards and one touchdown – but that one touchdown could have easily been five. Once again, Eli’s fantasy stat line will not turn heads, which seems to be the only way to gain respect as a quarterback in this fantasy football-driven era we live in. Analysts still firmly place Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers above Manning – this flusters and confuses fans, as they are able to see game-in and game-out the importance and clutch performances of their quarterback. Remember when Matt Flynn came in and lit up the world for one game when Aaron Rodgers was hurt? Remember when Matt Cassel did the same when Brady went down? Well, that will never happen if Eli Manning goes down. He is irreplaceable, even in the short term and therefore the undisputed MVP in my eyes.
Prepare for a season of blogs and articles propping up quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III and the like, but remember that shoe deals, muscles and bloated stats are really not what should determine which quarterbacks are talked about as great. Wins, clutch football, unshakeable leadership, mastery of the game and position, and championships are the true recipe for determining greatness. Easy Eli fits the criteria – more so than Aaron Rodgers, and more so than Drew Brees.
By the way, Eli has already eclipsed 1,000 yards passing. I expect he will break the 5,000-yard barrier this season, moving him north of 32,000 for his career, putting him on track to break Phil Simms’s record in 2013-2014. This still leaves Manning firmly behind is brother, Tom Brady and Drew Brees – for now.