The Giants are going to take a look at rookie quarterback Kyle Lauletta at some point this season. They may even take a look at journeyman Alex Tanney. There’s nothing Eli Manning can do to stop that from happening.
But maybe he did just enough on Monday night to hold off the transition for a few more weeks.
The 37-year-old quarterback only completed 19 of 31 passes for 188 yards, but that included three touchdown passes and an impressive, game-winning touchdown drive in the final 2:46 of the game. It included a beautiful 31-yard pass to tight end Evan Engram and a perfectly placed 3-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard with 53 seconds remaining to seal the Giants’ 27-23 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
It wasn’t his finest game. He made plenty of mistakes. And he was probably more of a game manager than anything else. He even blew a chance at two huge plays — once when he badly underthrew a wide-open Odell Beckham Jr. deep in the fourth quarter, and once in the third when he didn’t see Beckham completely uncovered in the slot.
But there were enough good things to make the Giants maybe think twice about pulling the plug on the Manning era, including a picture-perfect, 20-yard touchdown pass to Beckham in the third quarter.
None of that changed the reality. The Giants are still only 2-7 and their season is lost. They are planning for the future, which is why Lauletta (and maybe Tanney) will — and should — play at some point this season. But Manning had only been promised this start and nothing more by head coach Pat Shurmur. It was clear he had to come through to keep his starting job.
He did, and that should count for something, even if it only delays the inevitable.
Here are a few more takeaways from the Giants’ second win of the season:
- The bar was set pretty low, but this really was the Giants offensive line’s finest game of the season. Maybe it was the new look, with newly-acquired Jamon Brown in at right guard, or maybe it was the bye week. Whatever. Manning had plenty of time when he dropped back to pass. He was only sacked once on Monday — sack No. 32 on the season.
- Sure, everyone likes to harp on Manning’s faults, but there are examples everywhere of how things go wrong that don’t involve him. Exhibit A on Monday night came on the first play of the game. Manning hit Beckham on a quick slant, right in the hands … and he dropped it. That led to a three-and-out on the first series. Beckham had two touchdowns, but an otherwise rough night, catching just four of 11 targets. It wasn’t all him. He slipped on one. A couple were thrown behind him. But he’s had better games.
- Manning’s first touchdown pass to Beckham in the first half came with a huge assist from Brown, the new right guard who took the starting job from John Greco. Brown was helping out RT Chad Wheeler on a block, but he left his man to pick up the 49ers stunt rusher and saved Manning from a sack. That allowed Manning to stay in the pocket and fire a 10-yard touchdown pass to Beckham.
- Corey Coleman gave a nice boost to the Giants’ special teams as a kick returner. He set up a Giants touchdown with a 51-yard kickoff return in the third quarter.
- Shurmur’s play calling is strange sometimes. On third-and-goal from the 3, despite their awful running offense, they choose to run it? Not surprisingly, Saquon Barkley didn’t gain a yard. But what made that play even worse was that Beckham was lined up in the slot and was completely uncovered. Manning should’ve checked out of the play and hit Beckham with a quick pass, but he apparently never saw it.
- This is a continuation of a years-old problem for the Giants defense, but they had no answer for 49ers tight end George Kittle. He had nine catches for 83 yards. Some of that came at the expense of safety Landon Collins, who struggled throughout the game. But he didn’t receive any help from linebacker Alec Ogletree, who has struggled in coverage all year. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan did a great job of creating mismatches on Ogletree, including with running back Matt Breida, who lost Ogletree on an 11-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.
- It’s still remarkable to think that all the talk this summer was about new defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s aggressive defense, and how the pass rush was going to be revitalized. It turns out, it’s almost completely non-existent. The Giants barely got near 49ers QB Nick Mullens (27 of 39, 250 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) all game long.
- The Giants’ best defender in this game was LB B.J. Goodson, who had two interceptions, both off deflections. He had his finest game of what has been a generally quiet season. The Giants once had high hopes for him, but the new coaching staff had turned him into a part-time player. He re-emerged on Monday night.
- The fact that this game was played at all was a little surprising, considering the air quality was deemed “unhealthy” by the Environmental Protection Agency due to the wild fires raging in Northern California. The Air Quality Index at kickoff was 161 and it was at 166 in the second quarter and 170 by the end of the game. Anything between 150-200 is “unhealthy.” The EPA warns “everyone” to “reduce prolonged or heavy exertion” — you know, like playing football. The NFL had been monitoring the air quality for days, but obviously chose to play the game anyway.