Pour on the pressure, but 'you're not going to get to Eli'
With all the pressure on Eli Manning to win big as the Giants' quarterback, he should have melted. Instead, he crystalized. And he hasn't changed his poker face, Gene Wojciechowski writes.
GLENDALE, Ariz.-- The text message was sent to Eli Manning before the NFC wild-card game at Tampa Bay, before the divisional playoff game at Dallas, before the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay.Slow and steady wins the race, it read. No unforced errors. And every game the slow, steady Manning and -- sorry, Tiki, but it's true -- his New York Giants finished first in each postseason race. They beat the Bucs. Beat the Cowboys. Beat the Packers. With one more win, this time against the undefeated New England Patriots, the only Manning brother without a Super Bowl ring will be Cooper. If you're looking for one of the 1,000 reasons Eli of January 2008 is better than Eli of, say, September 2007, those text messages thumbed out by David Cutcliffe aren't a bad place to start. Hardly anybody knows Eli better. Cutcliffe was Eli's head coach at Ole Miss and Peyton Manning's offensive coordinator at Tennessee. If he were any closer, Cutcliffe would be in the Manning family photo. Anyway, Cutcliffe has watched Eli with the Giants from the very beginning. Four seasons of games here, four seasons of games there. But it wasn't until earlier this month, when Manning completed 20 of 27 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns in his first postseason victory as a Giants starter, that Cutcliffe recognized the Eli of Ole Miss.
Barber, the team's career rushing leader (and a favorite check-down receiver), retired -- and then promptly criticized Manning. Jeremy Shockey suffered a season-ending leg injury in mid-December. An ankle injury forced Plaxico Burress to miss long stretches of practice time. Scapula and hamstring injuries caused third wide receiver Steve Smith to sit out the better part of 12 games."Just because you have a bad day. . . or something goes wrong, it doesn't mean you can't do it," Eli Manning said. "It's part of football and growing up, and just understanding that it's how you bounce back from those things. We've dealt with a lot, but we've been able to bounce back and get to this position." Nobody does bounce better than Manning. His quarterback rating has gone from 73.9 during the regular season to 99.2 during the playoffs. Up. His interception totals have gone from 20 during the regular season to zero in January. Up.
What's next? Cutcliffe won't divulge the contents of his most recent conversation with Manning. But it's safe to say pre-Super Bowl XLII confidence levels are up. Way up."They're going to win the next one," said Cutcliffe, who will be at Sunday's game. "They're going to beat the Patriots, too. I have no doubt." If it happens, you already can guess what Manning will say if Olivia and Archie ask about it afterward. "It went fine. We won." Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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SUPER BOWL XLII
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Commentary/Features• Clayton: Top five contenders for the next SB
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• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 4)
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• Horton: Notes from film room (Day 2)
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SportsNation• Vote: Which team will win?
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• Conversation: Talk Super Bowl XLII
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• Quiz: 42 Super Bowl history questions
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