EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Eli Manning’s pre-game routine included something unusual. It included him stopping to take a family photo with his three young daughters.
Did Manning know something about his future that the rest of us could only speculate on? Did the 37-year-old perhaps know this would be his last start as quarterback of the New York Giants?
Nah. He just knew what married men the world over, including yours truly, also know.
“You ever heard the phrase a happy wife, a happy life?,” Manning joked. “That fits that category.”
Manning’s day ended with a missed opportunity, four straight incompletions in the final seconds that turned a chance for an inspiring last-second season-ending victory into yet another bitter defeat in a season filled with too many of those.
The Giants, after fighting back from 14-0 and 28-25 deficits, had a victory celebrating short-circuited when replay gave Dallas a touchdown with 1:12 remaining on a fourth-and-15 32-yard pass from Dak Prescott to Cole Beasley. A successful two-point conversion gave Dallas its winning margin.
Sunday was undoubtedly, and probably appropriately, a dismal end to yet another dismal season for the Giants. What it does not appear to be, however, is the end of the line for Manning as the Giants’ quarterback.
“Absolutely. I do.”
That was Giants coach Pat Shurmur’s emphatic answer when asked Sunday if he wanted Manning back as his quarterback in 2019.
“I think everybody thinks I’m nuts, but I’ve seen the good in Eli and I believe in the good, especially in the quarterback position,” Shurmur said. “I believe everybody around him has to do their job as well. I certainly hear things, but I believe in him.”
Maybe this was just lip service from Shurmur before he, GM Dave Gettleman and co-owner John Mara sit down to discuss the future. It certainly, though, did not sound like that.
There was a lot of good from Manning on Sunday. He completed 24-of-41 passes for 301 yards, the 50th 300-yard passing game of his career. He threw two touchdown passes. From their final drive of the second quarter until their final, fruitless possession the Giants scored six times. They became the only team this season to score 30 points against Dallas.
Yet, there was also bad. Manning threw a red zone interception on the Giants’ first drive. As he always does when he makes mistakes, Manning simply said “Bad decision by me.” There was a fumble on the second Giants’ possession. There was the failed final drive.
“I thought he did a heck of a job,” Shurmur said. “He had an interception on the first drive, where the corner made a good play. Then the second interception, he got hit and the ball was popped away. But he battled, he got us in position to win and I thought he did a good job.”
Still, not the ending Manning and the Giants wanted for 2018.
The 37-year-old was asked after the game if playing football was still fun.
“Yes. This is all I know. I love coming to practice. I love game planning, getting plays that will work and competing. Winning games, celebrating touchdowns, all of that. All of that is fun,” Manning said. “The losses hurt and they are tough to deal with. They are tougher now than in the past because you know your opportunities are running low to make playoffs and championship runs. When you are not doing as well as you want to, it is tough to handle.”
The Giants obviously did not do as well as they had hoped this season. They started 1-7. They won only five games. They missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. They haven’t won a playoff game since they last won the Super Bowl in the 2011 season.
They obviously have a choice to make. Shurmur reminded reporters after Sunday’s loss that the Giants are building their way back from a team that went 3-13 in 2017 and was in such disarray that both the coach and GM were fired in season. He said, as he has often said since the preseason, that the Giants are on “the right path.”
Everyone is aware that when you take the long view Manning will likely only be able to walk a short portion of that path with the Giants. He will be 38 next season and if he is back for a 16th year with the Giants he will be the first player in franchise history to last that long. When they get it right down the line, if they ever get it completely right, it will likely be with someone other than Manning behind center.
The Giants have to plot a future course, and they know it.
Shurmur, though, certainly doesn’t sound like a coach ready to make Manning part of the Giants’ past just yet.
“I feel strongly about Eli and as we go into the offseason, I work for people, and there’s a hierarchy, as you just mentioned, and there will be conversations about what we do at all positions,” he said.
Fans and media will spend the next several months debating what the Giants will do with their first-round pick, which looks like it will be sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Will they use it on Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins if he declares? Will they draft a quarterback later on? Will they sign a free agent like Teddy Bridgewater? Will they trade for a young, untested backup?
Shurmur isn’t dealing with the drama.
“I’m not focusing on all this uncertainty that everybody else is focusing on,” he said. “I want to get a shower and get the hell out of here. That’s what I want to do.”
Manning last week admitted the uncertainty about his future. On Sunday, though, he said he wasn’t focused on what might come down the road.
“You try not to worry about those things. Just enjoy the moment and enjoy playing football. Enjoy every aspect. That is always your mindset,” Manning said. “Playing in games, enjoy the circumstances and the situations. Enjoy the opportunity to go try and win a game. I think you have to always look at the positives and embrace it because you just don’t know.”
After the improvement the Giants showed in the second half of the season — going 4-4 while losing three games in the final minute and scoring 27.4 points per game after averaging 18.75 the first half of the season — Manning seems more than likely to get the opportunity to embrace New York for at least one more year.
Manning said Sunday that he and the Giants will “figure it all out” when it comes to his future. He certainly sounded, though, like a guy who wants to continue to be part of it.
“There is great talent and great character guys here. Guys you love to come to work with and you appreciate what they do and put in to get better, learn and listen to do the right things,” Manning said. “You appreciate being able to come to work every day when you have guys that love what they’re doing. It makes it fun.”