The Giants [9-4] host their final home game of the regular season Sunday but hope it won’t be the last home game of the season, period.
Sole possession of first place in the NFC East – and a clearer path to hosting a home playoff game – are on the line as the Philadelphia Eagles [9-4] head into the New Meadowlands Stadium looking for the season sweep. Michael Vick and Co. may take the headlines but the real key to the outcome of this pivotal game is the play of Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
The veteran quarterback has been erratic all season, posting 19 interceptions, and has a history of underperforming in big home games when the temperature dips and the notorious swirling winds pick up. The forecast will not be the only adversity for Manning, as he’ll be without reliable wideout Steve Smith for the remainder of the season. How well Manning adjusts to life without his security blanket will go a long way to determining if the Giants can finally end its five-game losing streak to the Eagles.
It was his crucial fumble late in the fourth quarter that doomed Big Blue in its last encounter, so ball security and efficient throws will be at a premium. Manning fumbled with less than three minutes remaining on a scramble up the middle. Instead of sliding feet first, effectively ending the play and giving New York a crucial first down, Manning went head first and lost the ball without being touched.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin certainly hopes Manning has adjusted his careless ways. And to better hide Manning’s flaws, Coughlin said ball control and the running game will be the backbone, a facet of the game that failed New York in its previous Philadelphia matchup.
“We didn’t have much success running or throwing and the turnovers were ridiculous, to be honest with you,” said Coughlin. “The numbers were way down, yet we’re ahead in the fourth quarter…there are a lot of clear objectives here, one of which is that offensively we’ve got to get going, got to do our job, got to hold the ball, got to move the ball, and we’ve got to be able to run the ball against a very good defense.”
Manning said the mounting losses in this series are obviously no fun but added that he thinks he’s learned from his mistakes and will be a better player because of it.
“You definitely learn and find out what things work and when will they try to make adjustments and what works for them,” said Manning. “We’ve done some good things and moved the ball well at times [but] we just have to get better at third down conversions. There are definitely some things we can take from [the losses] and know we had a chance to win games but we didn’t do it. We have to find a way to win the fourth quarter.”
One mistake that Manning must learn from is to not allow Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel bait him into poor throws. Samuel has a team-leading seven picks for a defense that leads the league with 22 interceptions. Manning, who was picked off twice by Samuel in the previous matchup, said he’s well aware of the ball-hawking corner.
“He does a great of job of masking [coverages] and they allow him to kind of freelance some,” said Manning. “And when the ball is in his area, he just attacks the ball.”
Coughlin, who’s become increasingly frustrated with the inconsistent decision-making of his quarterback and the lack of cohesion in the passing game, said he hopes his team adjusts as well to the Eagles’ gameplan as they did for the rescheduling of the Vikings game last week. He added that everyone in the locker room knows the importance of Sunday’s game but hopes they don’t over-emphasize it because that’s when miscues happen the most.
“It’s the most important game of the year because it’s the next game,” said Coughlin, noting that road games at Green Bay and Washington in the final two weeks hold as much weight. “There’s a lot to be accomplished in these last few games of the season.”