Eli Manning was just a month past his 31st birthday when he threw the most gorgeous pass of his NFL career, a 38-yard strike into a teeny, tiny window to a double-covered Mario Manningham with 3:46 left in Super Bowl, XLVI, setting up the Giants’ 21-17 2011 Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.
Feel-good moments are always worth re-visiting. So, here it is:
You simply cannot throw a football more perfectly than that. Nor, to credit Manningham, can you do a better job catching one.
That led to the Giants’ second Super Bowl title in Manning’s eighth season. Let’s be honest, there might have/could have/should have been a third had Plaxico Burress not put a bullet in his leg and shot the Giants hopes of a Super Bowl repeat to smithereens in 2008. That 12-4 team was the best team of the Manning-Tom Coughlin era. The Giants were 10-1 when the shooting happened, went 2-3 the rest of the way and got bounced out of the playoffs in the first round.
After that 2011 championship there should have been more winning. If not more championships, at least more playoff appearances and championship opportunities. They looked like a team with a quarterback who was a lock for the Hall of Fame. A Hall of Fame coach, too.
Then they messed it all up.
Sure, there was some misfortune. Kenny Phillips’ knee wearing out. Chad Jones’ car wreck. David Wilson’s neck. Jason Pierre-Paul suffering injuries to his back and shoulder, then blowing off part of his hand. Injuries shortening the careers of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
All teams, though, suffer injuries and have to replace some players before they want to.
The Giants mostly just messed up the back half of Manning’s career, which has featured one solitary playoff loss in seven full seasons.
The offensive line got old. The replacements didn’t come soon enough, and when they finally did they were the wrong ones.
The pass rushers got old. The replacements flopped.
Wilson never really had a chance, and until Saquon Barkley came along the Giants never really found the right running backs after Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw left.
Too many draft picks didn’t make sense or didn’t pan out. The same with free agent decisions.
Too many of the wrong coaches came and went. Perry Fewell overstayed his welcome as defensive coordinator. Ben McAdoo brought an offensive system that didn’t play to the strengths Manning displayed in winning Super Bowl titles, then had an aborted run as head coach.
Manning last had a Pro Bowl season in 2015. You can argue he’s been in decline since. Maybe that’s right, maybe it isn’t. I don’t know. I have long maintained and will continue to do so that whenever that decline began, the Giants organization let the best quarterback in franchise history down over the past eight years far more than he ever let it down.
Which brings us to Daniel Jones.
Whether you think the two-game hook for Manning was too quick is really moot. The second the Giants drafted Jones No. 6 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft Manning became a placeholder. It became only a matter of time, of when and not if, Jones would take over. Manning knew it. Jones knew it. I knew it. Every fan of the Giants knew it, or should have known it. Pat Shurmur knew it.
“I think it was just my gut that it was time to make that move,” Shurmur said on Wednesday. “I think when you draft a guy like we did, at some point, this was going to happen. I felt like this was the time.”
Now it is incumbent on the Giants organization not to mess this up for Jones. Or, for that matter, Saquon Barkley. At the end of this season Barkley will basically be halfway through his rookie contract. He will also be that much closer to the point where his unmatched skills began to fade ever so slightly.
First and foremost Jones has to show that he is at least what Manning was — a quarterback you could, and should, win with.
If he is, the Giants can’t let him down the way they let Manning down.
A veteran offensive line is in place. They must continue trying to replenish and improve it.
If when Golden Tate comes back and we get a full chance to evaluate Darius Slayton the Giants look like they need pass-catching help, that has to be an offseason priority.
They have to continue adding defensive talent, with a premier pass rusher being an absolute must target.
If the organization determines that currently under fire defensive coordinator James Bettcher isn’t the right man to teach the team’s young defense, they need to find the right guy.
That extends to Shurmur, too. If they determine that Shurmur isn’t right guy to develop Jones they need to find the coach they believe is.
With a pair of projected compensatory picks giving them nine selections in the 2020 NFL Draft and a big chunk of cap space to utilize the Giants need to have a quality offseason that makes them a better team than they are now.
Going to Jones provides the Giants with a reset. An opportunity to get right for a new quarterback all of the things they couldn’t get right in recent years for the last one.
The pressure is now on the organization to show that it can.