Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eli Manning Finally Speaks Up: Giants Must Man Up Against Packers

Eli Manning did something he has never done in seven years as the New York Giants quarterback.  The usually reserved quarterback asked head coach Tom Coughlin if he could address the team in a players only meeting "before he [Coughlin] came in."  The head coach was more than happy to oblige his offensive leader after the horrendous 38-31 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday.

The five minute speech wasn't a last gasp of desperation.  It was Manning's way getting order back in the Giants' house after all the finger-pointing.

If you totaled up all of the Giants mistakes and misplays of the previous thirteen games, it wouldn't be more than the final seven and a half minutes of Giants futility against the Eagles.  Sunday's epic collapse was so bad Coughlin went home and recounted the game alone "in a room with the lights out for about 2 1/2 hours."

Manning spent his time after the game recounting the game to an empty press room for a while.  Contrary to a video making the rounds, the Giant quarterback was not stood up by the media.  The classy Manning had to wait a few minutes for the press room to fill.  He took the loss like a leader should.

The Giants QB, whose emotional range usually runs from the occasional fist pump to the more common befuddled head shake, took matters into his own hands by being the only speaker in his  attempt to raise the spirits of the fragile team's ego.

Never the outspoken team leader in the mold of a Michael Strahan or even the resident loudmouth safety Antrell Rolle, one can only hope the quiet Manning's rallying cry was in the style of John Belushi's character, Bluto, in "Animal House."  In that scenario, Manning might have began his fist-pounding speech with, "Remember when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor..."  At which the surprised Giant players all stare at their animated QB, then at each other.  Justin Tuck nods his head and says to no one, "Leave him alone, he's rolling," in reaction to Manning's first pep talk.

In reality, Manning matter-of-fact speech boiled down to this, " We're going to write the ending to this story, no one else." When asked to elaborate on what he said, Manning explained, "Just team stuff."

 Most of the veteran players couldn't remember their QB addressing the team like this, but said they will remember what he said in his non-confrontational style.  While Manning was calling a civil meeting of Giant minds, fans were still ranting for punter Matt Dodge's head. 

Manning's mild demeanor was a sharp contrast to Coughlin's public chewing out of the A.J. Burnett wannabe, Dodge, on the sideline the New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday.  The quarterback knows winning is a team effort and there were ten other players besides Dodge who could have tackled DeSean Jackson before his game-winning punt return. 

"It wasn't necessarily a speech.  He was just very prolific in saying [what] we had to do," said the defensive captain, Tuck.  "He just wanted to make sure we were on the same page, that our minds were set on coming in here on Wednesday and working our butts off," said Tuck.

The Giants (9-5) can take comfort that they are still be in the playoff hunt.  They control their own destiny for a wildcard position, but another December swoon would be two failed seasons in a row and Coughlin's  job could hang in the balance.

The Giants must purge the bad memories of Sunday.  Riding on this week's game against the Green Bay Packers (8-6) is the final wildcard position.  Packers star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, has already been cleared to play after missing last week's game due to a concussion.  A Giants loss at Lambeau Field would give the Packers the tiebreaker.

In his heart, Manning's message was an attempt to stem the tide of damage from the embarrassing loss and soothe the fractured Giants psyche.  Teammates said he put on stoic face, but could tell he just wants to win.  Now they head to the frozen turf in Green Bay and try to put all the bad memories of blowing a 31-10 lead behind them. 

 If Manning was trying to rally the troops by stirring up ghosts of Super Bowl seasons past, he has a tough road ahead.  If they can't win at home with a three touchdown lead, how can they expect to win three straight playoff road games.  They haven't even won a playoff game since the '07 Super bowl victory.

All and all, the Giants are still in the playoffs today.  It's up to the team to react positively to last week's collapse.  Maybe this veteran team will recall that '07 team of road warriors, but all the 'Win one for the Gipper' speeches in the world won't mean a thing if the Giants team can't make one loud statement on the field--together.

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