EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Giants open at Dallas Sunday. It’ll be the start of Eli Manning’s 10th season in the NFL, which of course seems impossible. Wasn’t it four or five years ago, not nearly a decade, that Manning was standing there on the draft stage in New York, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but there, holding a dark blue No. 1 Chargers jersey, flanked by commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his disapproving parents, Olivia and Archie Manning?
“I didn’t know if San Diego was going to pick me or not until about 10 minutes before the actual draft started,’’ Manning said on the eve of the season, at the Giants’ training facility in the shadow of MetLife Stadium. “I’m fortunate that the trade happened. I’m fortunate that it happened quickly also. I think it was about 30 or 45 minutes. Then I was traded to the Giants.’’
The rest is Super Bowl history, of course. Which brings up this point: Eli Manning doesn’t have the kind of annual pressure on him that most quarterbacks—maybe triply for a Tony Romo, his foe Sunday night in Arlington, Texas—have at this time of year. In the last seven seasons, six quarterbacks have won Super Bowls. Manning is the only man in that time to have won two. So it’s a little foolish to say, Eli Manning has to win this year or else. Or else what? Or else you’ll scream for another quarterback to play for the Giants?
Since the debacle of his rookie year, Manning has started every game New York has played—128 in the regular season, 11 in the postseason. In those eight seasons, Manning has never had a losing season. His numbers, compared to the luminous ones compiled by Drew Brees or Matthew Stafford, are meh. (If you call averaging 3,811 yards per season pedestrian.) He has played some stinkers. The Pittsburgh and Atlanta losses (23 of 49 combined) last year come to mind. But how many quarterbacks can go into San Francisco and whip the Niners 26-3, which Manning and the Giants did last year? How many can be behind the New England Patriots three straight games at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, and lead his team to the winning touchdown drive in the final moments? He did that too. Which is why there are no ultimatums in Eli Manning’s next couple of seasons—at least.
At 32, Manning settles into more of a leadership role with the Giants, which Tom Coughlin wants. “This year a little bit more,’’ said wideout Reuben Randle. “He’s always telling me, in the huddle and in meetings, what I need to do better. Not in a bad way. He’s like another teacher.” But not much will change with Manning as he approaches Dallas Sunday night.
“I think I’m a daily process guy,’’ Manning said. “I feel like the talent is there. It’s just a matter of can we take advantage of the opportunities and can we play to our level?’’
The daily process this week has been studying Dallas’ change from the 3-4 to the 4-3, but as Manning says, DeMarcus Ware is coming no matter whether he lines up as a defensive end or an outside linebacker. And with so many so-called 3-4 teams playing it maybe a third of the time, adjusting to the 4-3 won’t be hard work for the Giants.
Manning has had Romo’s number recently in the series, the Giants winning the last six of eight. If we know one thing, it’s that we should see points. Lots of them. The average score of the last eight meetings: Giants 29.9, Cowboys 27.4. the recent results are more fodder for those who—with justification—think Manning’s a clutch player late in the game, and that’s where Romo falls short.
One more note about the game that really gets under Jerry Jones’ skin: This will be the fifth meeting of the two teams at the giant stadium midway between Dallas and Fort Worth. The Giants have won all four previous games. There’s a quarterback and coach in Dallas who need to stop this, for their own job security, if for no other reason.
Sound Bite of the Week
“Cary’s a guy who’s very animated, who’s very angry sometimes, and that’s just how he is. We know him, but we love him to death.”
—Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, on hotheaded cornerback Cary Williams after Williams got into a fight at practice Thursday with wide receiver Riley Cooper.
Cary Williams doesn’t lead the league in aggression and ticking off teammates and foes; Miami guard Richie Incognito does. But Williams would be in a battle for No. 2 on that list.
Player You Need To Know This Weekend
Darrelle Revis, cornerback, Tampa Bay (No. 24). Revis returns to the scene of his prime, the Meadowlands, where he became the best cornerback in football before shredding his knee last fall and then moving on to the Bucs in an April trade. A shame, really, that we can’t see him face off against Mark Sanchez, out with a shoulder injury. As well as these two players know each other’s tendencies, I would have loved to see them try to read each other Sunday. But it’ll be Geno Smith, a rookie, who will try to outsmart Revis, who has convinced coach Greg Schiano to let him take the opposition’s best receiver much of the time this year. The test for Revis will be whether he can take the physical grind of a full game after being brought along slowly during training camp. I doubt he’ll let his emotions get the best of him. Talking to Revis last month, I got the impression he was most upset with GM John Idzik, not with any of the coaches or players. “Idzik came in, cleaned house, and shredded the team,’’ Revis said. “I think if it were up to Rex [Ryan], he would have had my back and supported me. But overall I don’t have hard feelings about the Jets. This’ll be an emotional game. Guys will be amped. But you gotta move on.”
A note from me about the use of the nickname “Redskins.”
I’ve decided to stop using the Washington team nickname. It’s a name you won’t see me use anymore. The simple reason is that for the last two or three years, I’ve been uneasy when I sat down to write about the team and had to use the nickname. In some stories I’ve tried to use it sparingly. But this year, I decided to stop entirely because it offends too many people, and I don’t want to add to the offensiveness. Some people, and some Native American organizations—such as the highly respected American Indian Movement—think the nickname is a slur. Obviously, the team feels it isn’t a slur, and there are several prominent Native American leaders who agree. But I can do my job without using it, and I will. My 2,400-word story on Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his unique approach to the read-option Thursday proved you can write about the team (insightfully, I hope) and not make a big deal about not using the nickname.
I have no idea if this is the right thing to do for the public, or the politically correct thing to do, and I’m not going to sit here and try to preach about it and tell you if you like the name you’re wrong or if you hate the name you’re wrong. I can just tell you how I feel: I’ve been increasingly bothered by using the word, and I don’t want to be a part of using a name that a cross-section of our society feels is insulting.
I’m not speaking for my staff at The MMQB, or at Sports Illustrated. I haven’t ordered anyone who works at our new website to not use the name; it will be up to each person to decide. We had some discussions as a staff about the nickname in August, and I said in those discussions I didn’t want our site to use it. But I felt after some thought that it’s not my place to order people who I work with to do something they may not be comfortable doing. So I decided to make my own decision, then allow the other writers and editors on the site to do what they want. Also, we won’t be changing quotes to eliminate the name in stories, or editing it out of pieces from outside contributors who choose to use it. It will also appear in web tools that categorize stories for searches.
Some of you will view this as grandstanding. Some of you will wonder: You’ve covered the NFL for 30 seasons, and just now you realize this nickname is objectionable? All I can say is, you grow in your business, and you grow as a person, and you try to always be open to ideas and to what others are thinking. I told someone the other day: “That’s right. I changed my mind about it—just like I changed my mind and voted for Art Monk for the Hall of Fame.’’ Some will say you won’t read me, or the site, anymore. That’s okay. It’s a free country. Here’s what it came down to for me: Did I want to be part of a culture that uses a term that many in society view as a racial epithet? The answer kept coming back no—and now that I have been charged to run a website, I thought I would finally do what felt right to me.
Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend
1. The return of Sean Payton. Not saying the Superdome will be as electric as it was for the NFC title game four seasons ago, but Payton coming back after his 2012 suspension, and the fact that the biggest regular-season game of any New Orleans season (Falcons-Saints) is at hand, will make this one of the special Sundays in recent Saints history.
2. The Buffalo defense. Have we forgotten, in this rush to be excited about E.J. Manuel, that the Bills allowed 89 points to the Patriots in two games last year? I mean, 89 points in three games would be bad. Two? Watch the frenetic sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker and second-round pick, Kiko Alonso (No. 50) in this one, to see if the Bills can finally make some headway in stopping Tom Brady. The Pats, by the way, are 23-2 versus the Bills in the last 25 meetings.
3. Pace, and style, of the game. Been saying this for weeks, but watch for a fifth straight season of NFL teams setting a record for most plays in a season—which means there’s a very good chance of a scoring record, and passing records, being set.
4. One very new officiating wrinkle. New rule this year: Other than on in-line plays between the tackles, ballcarriers cannot lower their heads and inflict hits with the crown of the helmet. Love this rule. In the past, when runners lower their heads and pop defenders, and defenders also lower their heads, the defender gets flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Now, if both do it, it’ll be offsetting penalties. If only the offensive player does it, it’ll be a personal foul on him.
5. The Cam Newton Referendum. Can’t blame him entirely, or even halfway, for his 13-19 won-loss record in two seasons as the Panthers’ franchise savior and quarterback. But the Panthers gave rise to great hope by finishing 5-1 last year. This game against the Seahawks, however, even in Charlotte, is a bad opening match.
6. The Bears debut of Kyle Long. Very interesting to watch how much Long—who has had an excellent summer for Chicago—can do to solidify the weak link keeping the Bears from becoming a consistently good team. He’ll wear his dad Howie’s number, 75, and play right guard, next to another rookie, right tackle Jordan Milles (fifth round, Louisiana Tech) against the Bengals’ formidable defensive front.
7. The debut of Mike Wallace. Who, for the record, has a gaudy career average of 20.8 yards per catch against the Browns. Miami, and its expensive new free-agent toys, travels to Cleveland, and a loss for the Dolphins would be a devastating rebuke of the progress the organization is certain it’s made.
8. Speaking of debuts: Terrelle Pryor and D.J. Hayden for the Raiders, at Indy. Hayden should see about 60 percent of the snaps, with some against Reggie Wayne, in his first real game since he almost died on a University of Houston practice field last November. Pryor is a desperation move by a coach under immense pressure, Dennis Allen. Boy, Matt Flynn must have some serious cooties.
9. The youth of the Rams. Check out this outstanding graphic from stlouisrams.com. It shows what a youth movement is really like.
10. The marriage of Andy Reid and Alex Smith enters game one. Reid is sticking out his neck for a West Coast quarterback few others wanted. If Kansas City can’t beat Jacksonville, it’s going to be a long year in Arrowhead.