Commentary

Eli Manning shows his poise, pedigree

Giants QB reads Jags' blitz -- and finds Kevin Boss -- to lead rally and save Big Blue

Updated: November 29, 2010, 7:49 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning looked across the line and saw it, smelled it, tasted it, felt it in every ligament, muscle and bone. He was raised a quarterback in America's first quarterbacking family, meaning the defense never has to post a neon sign to advertise an all-out blitz.

Manning knew it was coming the way a bird knows a nor'easter is coming. It's part of his genetic coding, a valuable asset buried somewhere deep in the Manning DNA.

It was third-and-10 at the Jacksonville 32, the Jaguars were holding a 20-17 lead, and the clock was tick, tick, ticking away the relevant portion of the New York Giants' schedule. If Manning failed to make a play here, his Giants might have finished the day with a three-game losing streak and a 6-5 record, leaving them about as dead as the Dallas Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesEli Manning's Giants started slow, but jumped past the Jags when the chips were down.

Up in his executive suite, the man who gave Manning a $97.5 million contract extension last year liked his chances.

"I'll take it every time," Giants president John Mara said, "the ball in Eli's hands, because he's going to win more than he's going to lose in that situation. He just has a certain coolness about him that gives you confidence, and of course he's done it before in the biggest game of all."

Super Bowl XLII, among the greatest pro football games ever played. Manning started that fourth quarter against the 18-0 New England Patriots with a pass to a rookie tight end, Kevin Boss, who rumbled downfield and altered the dynamic of that epic night with his 45-yard gain.

Boss made everyone forget Jeremy Shockey in the Arizona desert, yet hasn't exactly made anyone forget Kellen Winslow since. He's delivered some nice catches here and scored a couple of touchdowns there, but more than anything he's shown a spectacular talent for blending in, for being just another face in the crowd.

Boss couldn't afford to blend in Sunday, not with half the offense battered and bruised and spending this must-have game in the tub. The Giants were pulling bodies off the sandlots to line up at wide receiver, their offensive line was an unruly mess, and their franchise quarterback was in dire need of help.

But with 39 seconds left in the third quarter, the 6-foot-6, 253-pound Boss had already come up smaller than the coin used at the opening toss: He hadn't caught a single one of Eli's passes, and his holding penalty had wiped out a second-quarter touchdown.

Finally, Manning found Boss near the left sideline, where the tight end deployed every lunging inch of his wingspan to make the grab. On the first play of the fourth quarter, after a big Brandon Jacobs run, Manning reached back into the book of Eli and found the same target he hit to open the final, fateful 15 minutes of the Super Bowl.

Boss went for 25 yards this time, setting up Manning's touchdown pass to Mario Manningham and Ahmad Bradshaw's two-point conversion for the tie.

Only Jacksonville answered with a field goal, giving Eli less than six minutes to save the season. Manningham managed a huge catch for him on the second play of the possession, and Jacobs followed with another mad dash.

Soon enough, it was third-and-10 from a distance that would make a field-goal attempt a dangerous proposition. As Manning prepared to take the snap, he thought the blitz would come only from the weak side.

But that internal mechanism kicked in, a Manning's intuition, and Eli realized the Jaguars were bringing half of Jacksonville on the rush.

Manning knew it, though he wasn't 100 percent sure if Boss knew it.

"It's important to be on the same page as the quarterback," the tight end said, "and Eli and I were both able to see the pressure coming."

Or, as Tom Coughlin would say, "Twinkle toes. Sight adjust."

A sight adjustment made by two men in helmets and masks glancing at each other while more than 78,000 witnesses screamed.

The quarterback who can't run like his opponent, David Garrard, and can't quite throw like his brother, Peyton, found a way to win the game anyway. He got rid of the ball with a Marino-like release, flinging it to a spot where he believed Boss would be.

"He went up the field looking for the ball," Manning said. "I got it to him."

Boss broke through Courtney Greene's arms, ran for daylight, and lo and behold the Giants had the lead.

Jacksonville had enough time to take it back, but a Giants defense steamrolled in the first half played with extreme urgency in the second. Garrard wasn't zig-zagging for touchdowns anymore. In fact, he was practically running for his life at the end, just trying to make it to the locker room in one piece.

Manning took a knee to end the game, finishing with 226 passing yards and without a single interception or sack. "This was a big one," the quarterback said.

In the interview room, before he stepped to the microphone, Manning smiled as he stared at a TV screen and the image of his former receiver, Amani Toomer, grading his performance with a B.

Manning didn't care; he knows every W goes down as an A on the family's scorecard. As he headed to the parking lot, Manning grabbed the extended hand of his father, Archie, and insisted he gave no command to Boss -- verbal or non-verbal -- on the blitz that preserved New York as a two-team town.

"It's his read," Manning said of Boss. "It's just his read and his rules."

But it's Manning's team. His team and his time.

Across the hallway, outside the winning locker room, Manning's employer had already been asked about the quarterback's big win and his bigger contract.

"This is what we had in mind when we gave it to him," Mara said.

A little precision and a lot of poise. On Eli Manning's make-or-break Sunday, it went a long way.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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