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A marked Mann

The Giants prepare for an offseason of uncertainty on many levels but one thing that is certain heading into next season —quarterback Eli Manning must change.    

The Giants prepare for an offseason of uncertainty on many levels but one thing that is certain heading into next season —quarterback Eli Manning must change.

The seven-year veteran had outstanding passing numbers, including 4,002 yards and 31 touchdown passes, but it was the league-leading 25 interceptions that doomed Big Blue. It was the most picks in team history. Although about a third of them weren’t his fault – many coming off tipped passes and new receivers running wrong routes – Manning still foots most of the blame because he’s the starting quarterback and is making money [six years, $97.5 million – $16.25 million annually] that’s on-par with future Hall of Famers like Tom Brady and big brother Peyton.

It doesn’t help the younger Manning that both Brady and Peyton had their own receiver woes throughout the season but still made it work. That’s what the great ones do – find a way. Both Brady and Peyton had their share of maladies and youthful receivers – not to mention Peyton’s non-existent running game -- yet both quarterbacks managed to lead their franchises back into the post-season in a much tougher conference, no less.

Manning, who also led the league with 30 total turnovers, knows he must make changes in how well he protects the football if the Giants are to get back to the playoffs next season.

“I put a lot on my shoulders and I have to get better. I’m not a 25-interception quarterback. I think obviously that’s got to be fixed,” said Manning. “There were some games where they came early in the game or in the red zone so there is room for improvement. I have to play smarter at times and be careful with the ball.”

The perpetually optimistic quarterback then offered some positives to take away from the season.

“I can’t dwell just on [negatives]. You have to look at some positives. I also threw for 31 touchdowns and threw for over 4,000 yards. Those are some positives to build off,” Manning said. “We had a lot of big plays in the pass game. We were explosive and led the league in touchdowns over 20 yards. Those things are good things to do.”

Manning added that although it was a revolving door at wideout once starters Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks went down with injuries late in the season, he was proud at the way everyone still conducted themselves and battled.

“Obviously, we had receivers in and out [and] we still did well,” he premised. “We had one receiver [Nicks] with 1,000 yards and Mario [Manningham] was about 50 yards short of having 1,000 yards. Our receiver that made the Pro Bowl last year [Smith] wasn’t one of those guys and was hurt. We dealt with some issues but I thought we responded well with some of the circumstances we were in.”

Never one for publicly making excuses, Manning did admit the injuries, tipped passes that resulted in interceptions, and wrong routes at inopportune times played major roles in his shortcomings. Manning said the constant shuffling of wideouts led to many miscommunications, which resulted in the offense looking inept at times. He mentioned that there were several times during the season that gameplans had to be altered because guys were learning new wideout positions on the fly.

He then described in great detail what it was like being him – and his wideouts – down the stretch.

“Obviously it affected the game plan. You’re trying to move receivers around and it’s tough,” he offered. “Steve Smith was our slot guy [especially] on third downs. Then all of the sudden you lose a guy like him and you bring in Derek Hagan and he’s playing the slot. He does a great job but then we mix it up and put Manningham in the slot some. Let’s put Hakeem in there, too.

“On paper, you kind of draw it up and you think they know what they’re doing. But you get to rep it only one or two times in practice. Then a game comes up and you get different coverages and you have a little pressure and you have to move around and your timing is just off. There is only so much time you have to rep those things…so yeah, it definitely affected things and we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be on some of our route running and decision making [because] we’re having different guys move around each week.”

Despite what sounded like minor bellyaching – just or unjust – Manning pointed out that in the games both Nicks and Smith missed due to injury, New York was 3-0.

Giants’ general manager Jerry Reese initially echoed Manning’s sentiments about all the obstacles he faced this season. But at the end of the day, Reese reiterated the cold, hard truth of NFL quarterbacking – people don’t want to hear excuses. They just want results.

“I think it was a combination of things. I think he did try to do too much. It was also a combination of having a different offensive line in front of you and a combination of different receivers most of the season,” Reese said when asked about Manning’s subpar season. “But this is a business about making decisions and adjustments. He has to make the adjustments and we expect him to do that. I don’t care who is in there. Stat-wise most people would be pretty happy with 31 touchdowns and 4,000 yards but you judge quarterbacks on wins and losses. We only got 10 wins and that didn’t qualify us for the tournament, so that wasn’t good enough.”

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