When? Where? How? Who?
The Eli Watch is back on.
And it’s tormenting the Giants.
Another season from hell … and the worst is yet to come. The worst is yet to come if the franchise doesn’t handle the franchise quarterback with the amazing grace that he has displayed across 15 seasons.
And as of Monday Mourning, there is no indication the Giants have a game plan for: When? Where? How? Who?
“Gosh, you gotta think of some other questions, my goodness,” Pat Shurmur said when the Eli Manning questions began flying at him. “You go every week with giving your team the best opportunity to win the football game … each week … that’s how you do this … this isn’t player tryout.”
This should be balancing a lost 2018 with a beloved quarterback who turns 38 in January with evaluating the rookie quarterback who might help give you a chance to win in 2019.
If Shurmur goes every week with giving his team the best chance to win, then by that criterion Manning should start the rest of the season.
“As the coach, I stay in the moment. We certainly have conversations about what runs parallel, the short-term and a long-term,” Shurmur said.
But at 3-8, the moment of truth is drawing near, the tug of war between short term and long term has to begin in earnest.
Barring some unforeseen stay of execution, these will be the last five games of Manning’s Hall of Fame Giants career.
All we know right now is that Manning starts Sunday against the Bears.
“I expect to start until I’m told not to,” Manning said.
Shurmur finds himself between a rock and a hard place because once he takes the ball from Manning, he signals to his team that he is playing for tomorrow — even though the organization previously waved a white flag by trading Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Eli Apple.
If Manning is indeed standing on the 18th green, John Mara has to make sure that he and the new regime don’t bogey the send-off this time, make sure that Manning gets to go out with the dignity and honor that he deserves, no ifs, ands or errant putts.
“I want to play. You all can speculate and you all can what-ifs … not my decision,” Manning said.
The tricky part is that the Giants also owe it to themselves and to their future — a future that is no longer now — to get some kind of evaluation on Kyle Lauletta.
But when? Where? How?
“Why are you jumping over Tanney?” Shurmur asked.
Because Lauletta was a fourth-round pick in 2018. Alex Tanney is a journeyman backup for a reason, that’s why.
“All along he’s been our No. 2 guy,” Shurmur said. But starting Tanney over Lauletta and benching Manning would be akin to starting Geno Smith over Davis Webb last season.
The Serby Plan: Start force-feeding Lauletta in practice so he at least can be active for the first time as the backup before finally getting a chance to get his feet wet.
If and when the occasion arrives between now and the end of the season, throw Tanney a bone if you must in relief of Manning.
It would be cruel and unusual punishment to throw Lauletta to the Bears, especially to Khalil Mack, and NFC East etiquette should preclude starting him against a desperate Redskins team at FedEx Field on Dec. 9.
Giving Lauletta his shot Dec. 16 at home against the Titans and Dec. 23 at Indianapolis — both contending teams battling the Texans in the AFC South — would seem doable and equitable. The regular-season home finale against the Cowboys should belong to Manning. “Auld Lang Syne” the day before New Year’s Eve.
Complicating matters is the fact the Giants’ final five opponents — the Bears, Redskins, Titans, Colts and Cowboys — all are alive for the playoffs. Mara should resist any integrity-of-the-game reservations about starting a rookie — or Tanney — with so much at stake in the playoff races.
Ever since Nov. 21, 2004, when Manning made his first start against the Falcons, he has started every game at Giants Stadium and at MetLife. The sight of Manning standing on the sidelines in his house would impact Giants fans more than him standing on the sidelines last Dec. 3 in Oakland watching Smith quarterback his team did.
Michael Vick was the Falcons quarterback when Manning made his first start. They met after the Falcons’ 14-10 win.
“I just told him he played a great game,” Vick said back then. “His first game, there is a lot of hype, a lot of pressure on him. He came out and played with poise. He made some plays you can’t expect a rookie quarterback to make. I told him he’s going to be just like his brother [Peyton] in due time.”
Manning finished 17-for-37 for 162 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in that first home start.
“I’m glad we got him now,” Falcons head coach Jim Mora said afterward. “I hope we don’t have to face him for a couple of years, because he’s something else.”
Most teams got him then.
“He came along in the second half and played better,” Tom Coughlin said. “He just needs to play.”
Manning played 210 straight times before his Ironman string was so unceremoniously ended. Soon, someone else will need to play.
But when? Where? How? Who?