The Giants are now treating every Sunday like a playoff game, seeing each week as a step closer to making this once-dismal season interesting.
Perhaps that’s why Eli Manning has suddenly found himself. The two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback was always at his best in the postseason, and he was very good in Sunday’s 38-35 victory over the Buccaneers, setting a personal record at the age of 37.
“That was a winning performance by all accounts,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said after Manning’s second consecutive turnover-free game.
Manning completed 17-of-18 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns a game after throwing three touchdowns in a win over the 49ers. The 94.4 percent completion rate was the best of his 15-year career, and his 155.8 passer rating was also his top mark when he has played all four quarters. On the lone incompletion, deep down the right sideline, Saquon Barkley faulted himself.
“I’ve caught that ball multiple times in practice,” Barkley said.
In typical Manning fashion, he took the blame for the pass, saying he merely missed Barkley.
It was a near-flawless day for Manning otherwise. He led the Giants on touchdown drives on their first two possessions, a first this year. He connected on scoring strikes to Odell Beckham Jr. and Barkley, and with the game in the balance, after a 17-point lead had been sliced to three late in the fourth quarter, Manning again came up big.
He found tight end Evan Engram on a 54-yard pass, and Barkley scored from 2 yards out three plays later, a capper to a big offensive afternoon for the offense.
“Just finding the rhythm, just kind of our identity,” Manning said. “I think the offensive line has been playing really well the last couple of weeks. Just running the football, play-actions have been really good for us. I think those combinations [really help].”
Just as significant is what Manning brings off the field. Barkley raved about how Manning has handled the pressure from the media amid his struggles, calling it “amazing,” and credited the quarterback for sitting down to watch film with him recently, and pointing out a few things Barkley didn’t notice.
“I definitely respect Eli, not only as a player, but a person,” Barkley said.
The calls for Manning’s benching have quieted. Given time to throw, he doesn’t look done at all. But he deflected the idea that playing well adds significance because of the questions he’s faced.
“There is always personal satisfaction when you win football games,” Manning said. “I feel good for all the guys. The new guys, guys that have been here, the coaches. Losing is not fun for anyone.
“It is not about me. It is about this team coming together and doing it for everyone and for everyone to feel good about all the hard work that has been going on. We just have to keep doing it.”