A Date To Remember is an occasional series Big Blue View will be running through the Super Bowl, highlighting the glory of the Giants’ past and celebrating the biggest playoff wins in franchise history.
The Birth of a Postseason Legend
Jan. 6, 2008
NFC Wild Card game
Giants 24, Buccaneers 14
The legend of Eli Manning was written with comebacks and Super Bowl runs.
It was written with wins at Texas Stadium, Lambeau and Candlestick.
It was written with a miracle escape from the Patriots’ pass rush and a heave that turned into “The Catch” — David Tyree’s nearly impossible helmet reception. And it was written with a picture-perfect, over-the-shoulder spiral to Mario Manningham four years later.
But for a moment, forget that you know how the Manning story unfolded. Forget the two Super Bowls, four Pro Bowls and the family pedigree, from dad Archie to brother Peyton.
Forget the ironman consecutive games streak and the 20 hits he took in leading the Giants to the 2011 NFC title in San Francisco.
Just remember that in 2007, an oft-criticized Manning was viewed as a disappointment. Remember that his passer rating had not risen above 77.0 in his first four seasons. And remember that he carried an unsatisfying 0-2 postseason record entering those playoffs.
But that’s when the first chapter of Manning’s legend was written, before the two Super Bowl MVPs, before the career-changing win over the undefeated Patriots and before the six game-winning drives — including five fourth-quarter comebacks — in 2011.
And it all started in Tampa on Jan. 6, 2008 with Manning’s first postseason victory.
It was rather unremarkable by historical standards (20-of-27 passing for 185 yards and two TDs) in a 24-14 win over the Buccaneers.
But it was the beginning of an unlikely run by an underestimated wild card team that was an underdog in each of its four playoff wins — all coming away from Giants Stadium.
And it was the first sign of the Super Bowl quarterback to come.
Yet even after the victory in Tampa, receiver Amani Toomer felt compelled to defend Manning’s now-characteristic composure and poise.
“He doesn’t get real excited,” Toomer told reporters. “There is more than one way to lead a team ... and he showed that today.”
The Bucs were undoubtedly on the decline, a few years removed from winning their own Super Bowl. Yet the NFC South champs were still the home team and favored over the 10-6 Giants.
After all, Tom Coughlin had been almost fired in the off-season. Star Tiki Barber had retired after a tumultuous 2006 season. And Michael Strahan notoriously did not report to training camp.
“Even though we made the playoffs the two years prior, we hadn’t won a game in the playoffs and we weren’t a dominant team,” Manning told Giants.com in 2018. “I think there was a lot of pressure on everyone to step up.”
Most of that pressure rested on Manning’s shoulders.
He was 20-19 as a starting quarterback entering the season — 20-21 including the playoffs. He threw an NFL-high 20 interceptions in 2007 and recorded a passer rating of 73.9, ranking 25th.
But then came the postseason. He evolved into what FiveThirtyEight.com in 2015 called “The Most Clutch Postseason Quarterback Of All Time.”
In the 2007 playoff run, he completed 60.5 percent of his passes and threw for 854 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception.
As Manning rolled, so did the Giants. But there were also huge contributions from Brandon Jacobs, who ran for one touchdown and caught another score against Tampa Bay. Toomer caught seven receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown. And Strahan had nine tackles (eight solo).
And then came wins in Dallas. Green Bay. And in Glendale, Arizona in Super Bowl XLII against the 18-0 Patriots.
The Giants wouldn’t have done it without Manning and The Catch — which was precipitated by The Escape and The Throw.
It may have been why Coughlin ended his final press conference with the team in January 2016 by lauding Manning.
“He can handle it all. He’s done it before. He’ll handle it again,” Coughlin said. “He’s extremely bright. He’s extremely competitive. He’s what you want a son to be made out of.”