Thirty-five-year-old Ben Roethlisberger is quarterbacking a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is 9-2, running away with the AFC North.
Thirty-eight-year-old Drew Brees is leading a New Orleans Saints team that is 8-3, tied atop the NFC South.
Thirty-five-year-old Philip Rivers is part of a once 0-4 Los Angeles Chargers team that now has a shot at winning the mediocre AFC West.
Forty-year-old Tom Brady ... ahh, forget it. You know what he does — year after year. He’s in a category all his own.
Thirty-six-year-old Eli Manning? He is quarterbacking a 2-9 New York Giants team that is eliminated from the playoffs and really hasn’t played a meaningful game in two months.
None of the above is meant to bash Manning. Nor is it meant to absolve Manning. His decision-making, accuracy and ball security have all been faulty at times this season.
This is really meant to say that the situation shouldn’t have come to this — the Giants facing the possibility of the worst 16-game season in franchise history — with Manning at quarterback.
Whatever you think of Manning’s current skill set, when he quarterbacks his final game with the franchise — whether he retires or moves on to finish his career elsewhere — he will do so as the best and most accomplished quarterback in franchise history.
Those two Super Bowl MVP trophies and all of the franchise passing records he holds make it so. Manning’s career, though, should have included so much more winning. Perhaps had Plaxico Burress not put a bullet in his leg and shot the Giants’ 2008 season the Giants would have five Super Bowl titles and Manning would have three rings.
Blame for the fact that the Giants have done far too much losing (41-50 with one playoff loss) since the last Super Bowl in 2011, though, has to fall squarely in the lap of general manager Jerry Reese.
At present, Manning is surrounded by JV level talent on offense. He has two undrafted rookie free agents trying to protect him on the offensive line. Aside from Sterling Shepard, he has a collection of guys at wide receiver who shouldn’t be playing. He doesn’t have a running back, or rushing attack, that scares anyone.
Manning is being sacked on 6.2 percent of his drop backs and in on pace to be sacked 38 times this season. The only season of his career that was worse in those categories was 2013 (6.6 percent sack rate, 39 total sacks). That despite being among the fastest QBs in the league this season at getting rid of the ball and being on pace for his lowest number of passing attempts (574) since Ben McAdoo joined the Giants in 2014.
Injuries are partially to blame for this season going south. On offense, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Weston Richburg out for the year, Sterling Shepard and Justin Pugh missing significant time. On defense, linebackers dropping like flies, Olivier Vernon missing several games, now Janoris Jenkins perhaps out for the year.
Reese’s decisions have had much to do with it, and not just the ones made last offseason.
- Years worth of neglect of the offensive line, followed by some draft and free-agent moves on the line that haven’t panned out, and more neglect last offseason.
- A constantly spinning wheel of running backs who haven’t scared anyone.
- Too many wide receivers who couldn’t get open or couldn’t run the right route.
- In-between Martellus Bennett and the arrival of Evan Engram, too many tight ends who couldn’t be relied upon.
- A decade-long refusal to put significant resources into the linebacker position.
- The mess of the 2016 NFL Draft, watching teams trade up to snatch the two players the Giants wanted — pass-rushing linebacker Leonard Floyd and offensive tackle Jack Conklin — and winding up with Eli Apple. That might work out OK in the long run, but it sure doesn’t look OK now. Floyd’s pass-rushing (12.5 sacks in 22 games) and Conklin’s blocking (an All-Pro rookie season) would certainly have helped this team more than Apple’s up-and-down play and iffy attitude.
Reese’s biggest sin? Not fully recognizing the type of quarterback he had, what that quarterback needed, and making sure that he had it.
Manning became the eighth quarterback in NFL history with 100 career regular-season losses when the Giants were beaten by the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving night. He has had a hand in some of those losses, certainly.
Manning won’t be the Giants’ quarterback much longer. The end is clearly in sight. Still, with a quarterback of Manning’s caliber the Giants should have done a lot more winning over the past half-dozen years.
The fact that they haven’t is on the general manager. It’s the biggest reason why the Giants should find someone else to dig them out of the mess they are in.