By now, everyone must know that, in my top 10 quarterbacks under 30, I put Eli Manning ninth. A lot of people didn’t agree with my placement of Eli, but I always stick by my original choices. It doesn’t mean I don’t like Eli. I just liked a few other young quarterbacks better.
One thing about the NFL right now: There are a lot of good, young quarterbacks. And that is a good change from a couple years ago.
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Having said all that, Manning did come through for his team today against the Jaguars. He’s been playing without four of his top five receivers and still was able to rally the Giants in a must-win situation at home. They fell behind early to the Jaguars, who have been a little lucky of late. But in the second half, the Giants rallied from an 11-point deficit to win and keep pace with the Eagles in the NFC East.
The key play in the game was Manning’s pass to a wide-open Kevin Boss. The Jaguars blitzed Manning on third down, and both he and Boss, the big tight end, read the play correctly. Manning hit Boss in full stride, and the big fellow took it in for the winning touchdown.
The touchdown was a bit of redemption for Boss. His holding penalty in the first half negated a touchdown by Mario Manningham.
The Giants are showing me a lot of resiliency. When they lost Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks in the past couple of weeks, I thought the Giants were in serious trouble. Smith has been Eli’s safety-valve receiver for a long time, and Hicks was quickly becoming his down-the-field playmaker. It’s tough on any quarterback when you lose big-time receivers like that.
But the Giants are hanging in there. They are definitely still alive in the East. And when they get everybody back – and they should get some of these receivers back down the stretch – everybody better look out.
The Giants still have to play Washington twice. And the Redskins appear to be fading. And they get Michael Vick and the Eagles at home in three weeks. This division race figures to go down the wire as long as the Giants continue to play tough on defense. With the game on the line today, they sacked David Garrard. They had four sacks on the day and forced two turnovers. To Eli’s credit, he didn’t turn over the ball once.
I’ve always respected the job that Tom Coughlin does with the Giants. He’s kept them focused through all their injuries.
Two tough guys
I give Steve Johnson a lot of credit. After he dropped what would have been a sure touchdown in overtime, the Bills receiver faced the cameras and said how much it hurt. That takes a lot of guts. It’s always easier to run and hide.
Johnson has had a great season for the Bills. He’s sparked their only two wins. That would have been a great win against the Steelers, but it didn’t happen. I don’t know what’s wrong with Pittsburgh. The Steelers just don’t look as dominant as they did earlier in the season.
The Steelers have a big showdown game next weekend against the Ravens, a team they’ve already lost to this season. Of course, they didn’t have Ben Roethlisberger in that one. He could prove to be the difference, but the Steelers simply aren’t winning the war at the line of scrimmage anymore.
The other player who showed me some special toughness today was Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis. He scored three more touchdowns in a close win over the Carolina Panthers. He now has 13 touchdowns on the season, which is pretty remarkable for a player who was thrown into that trade with the Broncos, who got quarterback Brady Quinn in exchange.
I’m still trying to figure out why the Broncos gave up on Hillis. The guy is built like a fullback, but has a quick burst. And he’s not shy about running over defenders. He’s difficult to bring down. The Browns haven’t had a lot to brag about in the past couple of years, but this young running back looks like the real deal. Now, it’s critical that the Browns go out and find some playmakers to go along with Hillis.
Running game helps Cutler
I left Jay Cutler off my top 10 quarterbacks, and that must have fired him up today. I did pick the Bears to win when I saw the other guys all jumping on the Eagles. And it made sense because they were at home.
Mike Martz, Chicago’s offensive coordinator, has taken some of the pressure off Cutler and the passing game. After Chicago lost to Seattle and Washington and ran the ball a total of 30 times combined in those two games, Martz started to call a lot more runs. In their four consecutive wins, he’s called more runs than passes. They averaged over 30 in the three previous games, and he called 28 runs today. Matt Forte rushed for 117 yards, and that means Chicago has rushed for over 100 yards in four straight games.
It is this running game that has helped Cutler. It means teams like the Eagles can’t tee off and simply rush the quarterback.
Now, Cutler was super sharp against Philadelphia, throwing for four touchdowns and no interceptions, and it’s because he can now use play-action. The commitment to the run also helps Chicago’s offensive line protect Cutler. Remember, earlier in the season, the Giants just teed off on him, sending him to the sidelines with a concussion. The Eagles did sack him four times, but for the most part he had enough time to make some big plays to Johnny Knox and his old Vanderbilt teammate, Earl Bennett, who caught two touchdowns.
With the Packers losing in Atlanta, the Bears now control their result in the NFC North. They already beat Green Bay. I think a lot of us were figuring the Packers would win this division, but after today, I’ve changed course. I think the Bears could win this thing. And that would be a big deal for Martz and Cutler.