Manning does not have storybook return. Didn’t matter

New York Giants fans hold up a sign for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) The return of two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning to the New York Giants’ starting lineup a week after being benched didn’t have a storybook ending.

It was like many of the Giants’ games this season. They were competitive for most of the day and found a way to lose.

Manning even threw a couple of late interceptions to contribute to New York’s 11th loss in 13 games in this dreadful season.

It didn’t matter though. Manning back in the starting lineup in the 30-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday had some heart-warming moments.

Most in the announced crowd of 78,125 at MetLife Stadium stood and gave him a standing ovation as the Giants took the field midway through the first quarter trailing 3-0. They applauded even louder at the end of the 17-play drive that ended with a game-tying field goal early in the second quarter.

And the best was chants of ”E-Lie Mann-ing” after the 36-year-old threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rhett Ellison to give New York a short-lived 10-3 lead late in the second quarter.

The 14-year veteran who has been the face of the franchise since joining the team in 2004 heard it clearly.

”I thought we had a good crowd today and I appreciate all the support these past weeks, and sorry we couldn’t get them a better game today,” said Manning, who finished 31 of 46 for 228 yards and two interceptions.

The cheers of the crowd were not the only voices Manning heard this week. He has gotten phone calls, texts, messages and all sorts of encouragement from friends and former teammates and peers who were upset with the way former coach Ben McAdoo told him he was being benched prior to last weekend’s game against Oakland.

McAdoo had said the team needed to evaluate quarterbacks Geno Smith and rookie Davis Webb. Manning was told he would start and play a half in Oakland.

Manning said ”No thanks.” If he was going to play, it would be to win, not to keep his streak of 210 consecutive starts alive.

”Whether it was from former teammates, friends, fans, notes, text messages, it meant a lot,” Manning said of the support. ”Those former teammates who I played with, I appreciated it. It made me want to be a better teammate to Geno and support him. And from the fans, I appreciate the nice words said about me. I just had to do the right thing and be a good person, and be a great teammate, and that’s what I strived to do.”

Manning got his chance to play again when McAdoo was fired Monday along with general manager Jerry Reese. Interim coach Steve Spagnuolo went with his gut and decided to go back to Manning, believing it gave the Giants their best chance to win in the final four games.

Manning said his whole focus this week has been on playing and winning.

”Obviously the last few weeks have been difficult with losing my starting job and losing your head coach,” said Manning, whose long pass was a 35-yarder to tight end Evan Engram . ”Those things are hard and they are personal, and hurt. I don’t like losing a head coach, I take that personally. That’s on me for not doing my job. I don’t like losing my starting job. That’s personal, also, and that’s because I haven’t played well enough and we’re not winning games. I appreciate Spags giving me an opportunity to get to start this week and see if we could get us a win, and I’m sorry we didn’t play well enough to get that win.”

Spagnuolo also didn’t win in his return to the head coaching ranks. He guided the St. Louis Rams from 2009-11.

”Look, it doesn’t feel good right now because we lost the football game,” Spagnuolo said. ”So, your mind goes back to all the things you could have, should have, would have done. That’s what happens when you lose.”

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