The pre-Super Bowl MVP version of Eli Manning spent much of his first four years in the NFL being treated like a pinata by New York Giants fans, Giants haters and media members. Alternately hailed as a future star by some and belittled as the worst Manning by others. Praised for his successes, ripped mercilessly for his shortcomings.
The Super Bowl MVP honor and four straight playoff appearances have largely quieted much of the Eli-bashing, except for the occasional strange rant by certain off the wall fans who will never be happy. He is now the NFL's highest-paid player, and is entrenched as Giants' quarterback for at least the next seven seasons.
Well, Jason Cole, national football columnist for Yahoo! Sports, told me recently that he believes Eli had better to prepared to face an avalanche of criticism if the Giants offense struggles at the beginning of the season. And I think we all know that is a very real possibility.
"This is an interesting season for Eli. Prior to this they did a good job of making sure he was surrounded by some good skill-position people," Cole said. "You take away the two top receivers ... that tries the patience of a lot of quarterbacks. I think he's going to have to be very patient while those guys develop and I think that he's gonna have to take a lot of heat and a lot of criticism from people when that offense struggles.
"He just signed this big contract. I don't have a problem with the contract because that's the cost of doing business -- if you have a guy that you think is a franchise guy you have to pay him, you don't have a choice."
"Given all those factors he is going to endure as much criticism as he has ever gotten, perhaps more if they're not really good the first four or five games on offense and the probably won't be.
"He's gonna hear it, the pressure's gonna be on him. I don't necessarily say that that's fair, but that's reality. He signed the contract."
I can't argue with Cole at all on this point. It is inevitable. In fact, we have already begun to see it. Check the Open Thread from last weekend's game against the Jets and you will see what I mean. Lots of gnashing of teeth over Eli's 9-for-21 numbers, despite the fact that there were a bunch of drops (I'm talking about you, Steve Smith) and a couple of other miscues by receivers.
These things are not Eli's fault. He is, however, the quarterback of a New York team that has high expectations. The first time he throws a Pick Six when a receiver runs a wrong route, or puts up awful numbers in a game the Giants lose, a whole new round of Eli-bashing will begin. So, brace for it. It's coming.
I will take it a step further, though.We all know that bashing is going to include a fair share of vitriol aimed at offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
KG engenders a good deal of hatred among Giants fans (you know who you are and you're proud of it) even when things are going well for the offense. I cringe at the thought of what will be said in the comments if and when the Giants perform poorly in some games this season.
Patience is not something that comes easily to the New York sports fan -- especially a fired up, emotional Giants fan. My plea, though, is for you to try and have some. As I tried to say the other day, if this team stays healthy it is likely to be better at the end of the season than it will be at the beginning -- especially on offense.
Here is what I wrote a few days ago.
For me, I will worry more about how quickly the defense finds itself than I will about the receivers. The Giants built this team thinking that group would be dominant from the beginning as the offense worked to find its footing. Right now, it's really Sheridan & Co. that should be feeling the weight of expectations, not quarterbackand his stable of young receivers.
Things will be fine. Remember, with a Super Bowl championship and an NFC East crown the past two seasons, Giants fans have been spoiled. This group is immensely talented, but it is a different group than that of the past two seasons. It will take time to fit all the pieces. Just expect a few bumps, and have the patience to let the situation develop. I think the end result is going to be a good one.
Try to remember that the first time you want to jettison Eli for David Carr. Or, wish that Kevin Gilbride would suddenly decide to join Ray Handley in hiding. Or wish for Brandon Marshall.
Have some patience. You're going to need it.
[NOTE: There is plenty more to the conversation I had with Jason Cole. I will post more from that interview tomorrow.]