Eli's talk might be what Giants need

BY Alex Marvez • August 17, 2011

The names Tom Brady and Peyton Manning belong in the same grouping of top-tier NFL quarterbacks.

Tom Brady and Eli Manning? Not so much.

For that matter, Eli Manning may not even rank among the league’s top 10 signal-callers, let alone in the stratosphere alongside Brady and his older brother. Is he truly preferable to Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Tony Romo or Jay Cutler?

The answer is obviously subjective. But just the fact Manning uncharacteristically tooted his own horn during a Tuesday radio interview should be taken as a positive by New York Giants fans desperate for good news after the team’s bumpy offseason.

The Giants were rocked when unable to re-sign wide receivers Plaxico Burress (Jets) and Steve Smith (Eagles), both of whom were well respected among their now-former teammates. The exodus of players from New York’s 2007 Super Bowl-champion roster continued with defensive tackle Barry Cofield, center Shaun O’Hara, tight end Kevin Boss and left guard Rich Seubert either released or gone via free agency. Cornerback and 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara fractured his foot early in training camp. The contract holdout of defensive end Osi Umenyiora took a psychological toll as well.

All of this has added to the doom and gloom surrounding a franchise that made nowhere near as big a personnel splash as Philadelphia, the NFC East rival that helped squash New York’s playoff hopes last December with a 28-point, fourth-quarter comeback win.

The Giants need some swagger back. Manning never has exhibited much publicly and certainly wouldn’t have compared himself to Brady if not asked an awkward question on the radio.

“What would you expect him to say?” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin told media during his Wednesday news conference.

Coughlin should be privately thrilled that Manning shed his milquetoast media image, albeit briefly. Manning made the kind of comments that: a) can become infectious to teammates who are tired of all the negativity enshrouding the squad, and b) reaffirm the confidence of New York’s offensive leader.

“I consider myself in that class (of great quarterbacks),” Manning told WEPN-AM radio. “Tom Brady is a great quarterback. He’s gotten better every year. He started off winning championships and I think he’s a better quarterback now than what he was, in all honesty, when he was winning those championships.

“I think now he’s grown up and gotten better every year. That’s what I’m trying to do. I kind of hope these next seven years of my quarterback days are my best.”

They must be for Manning and the Giants to capture another title.

In a league more dependent than ever on strong quarterback play, Manning failed to deliver in 2010. He threw an NFL-high 25 interceptions. He lost five fumbles.

Equally disturbing, many of those mistakes were forced when Manning faced heavy pressure. He panicked too frequently. He shouldn’t have a deer-in-the-headlights look after seven NFL seasons.

Such gaffes distract from the fact that Manning was a top-five quarterback last season in yardage (4,002), passer rating (85.3) and touchdown passes (31). The Giants also finished 10-6 and were in the playoff hunt until the regular season’s final weekend.

Manning need not single-handedly carry New York’s offense on his back in 2011, with the Giants having re-signed Ahmad Bradshaw to recreate his sound rushing tandem with bruiser Brandon Jacobs. The Giants still are going to try to maintain the nearly 50-50 run-pass ratio the team posted in 2010. A defense that led the league in forced turnovers (43) should again offer solid support.

If he can regain the composure exhibited on the game-winning drive of Super Bowl XLII, Manning has a legitimate shot at postseason success. And in what should be a wide-open season because of the NFL lockout, maybe the Giants can capture another Lombardi Trophy.

This wouldn’t necessarily put Manning in the same quarterback class as Brady. But it would give Manning two Super Bowl rings, which is just one short of Brady’s career total and one more than his brother.

It’s also the ranking that matters most.