Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eli Manning Has Something To Prove In Minnesota

Nobody has to remind the New York Giants about last January's season-ending bashing at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings--especially quarterback Eli Manning.  While the Vikings were lighting up the Giants defense like the Rockefeller Christmas tree, Manning continued his five-year streak of futility against the the Northmen.

Last year's rout was the fourth straight loss to Minnesota and put an exclamation point on the Giants dismal 2009 season.  Manning has never beaten Minny in four tries and, except for  a game in 2008 when he was pulled at halftime because the Giants already had the top seed in the NFC in their future, he has been brutalized by the purple defense.

One time in 2007, Manning was chastised by the press and Giants front office after throwing three interceptions which were returned for touchdowns in a lackadaisical effort against the Vikes.   The Giants GM Jerry Reese called his quarterback "skittish."  The press said he quit.

Last year's mauling was just the Vikings way of using an elephant gun to put the staggering G-Men out of their misery.  This year the Giants (8-4) are tied for first place with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East and claim they have have something to play for this time around.

The Giants have upcoming games against Philly and the Green Bay Packers--both in the playoff hunt--and a loss against the Vikings could push them out of the wildcard race.  A 10-6 record could leave any teams out of the playoffs because of strong teams like The Packers (8-4) and the New Orleans Saints (9-3) building up steam.

Despite walloping the Washington Redskins last week, the Giants have been inconsistent and hurt.  Eli has still thrown too many interceptions and the offense has trouble getting six inside the red zone. The team had been decimated by injuries to the offensive line and receiving corps and has more guys on the DL than "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark."

While that Broadway musical deals with flying actors crashing into the mezzanine and opening night jitters, the Giants were besieged by blitzing safeties and Sunday fumbles.  Lately though, the Giants have been successfully using understudies and hitting their marks.

Reese has been making all the right moves.  He brought back Derek Hagan--who was cut by the Giants in training camp--and has filled in admirably as a receiver.  Tight end Bear Pascoe was on the taxi-squad and now fills in at fullback.  They are two of many fill-ins who have played crucial roles in the Giants modest win streak.

Reese's wheeling and dealings are reminiscent of his magic touch in 2007 when he brought in role-players like Madison Hedgecock, Dominik Hixon and Kevin Boss in the Giants' stretch-run to Super Bowl XLII.  They have been important cogs--when healthy-- on this year's team as well.

For a team that has a record of 11-15 in the crucial month of December, since Head Coach Tom Coughlin took over, the team is confident.  Coughlin knows he doesn't have to fire his players up against the Vikings and the players are responding.

Defensive tackle Barry Cofield said the team is motivated especially the way the defense has been playing the past two weeks.  "That's what you live for," said Cofield.  "You want to have pressure and have something to play for and have things at the end of the season to play for."

For now,  the Giants have been fortunate to win with new replacement players but maybe some old faces will be back on the field this Sunday.  Wide receiver Steve Smith--who missed four games with a torn pectoral muscle--said he could start and offensive lineman David Diehl (hamstring injury) might be back too.

Manning's woes against the Vikings stand out in bright red ink on the stat pages.  While he has shown flashes of brilliance against most teams, he has been a dud against Minnesota.  Manning's 0-4 record, nine interceptions, and a passer rating of 47.7 against the Vikings blink like the North Star on a clear night in Hibbing.   

This is the game in which Manning must come up big.  His emotional void is sometimes mistaken for a weakness--a lack of competitiveness.  All said, Manning has handled six years in New York and wears a Super Bowl ring.

Sunday, he is playing for pride, respect and the playoffs.  A loss this weekend and it could be back to playing out the season...again.

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