During his first few years in the NFL, Eli Manning was know as a quarterback with talent who played inconsistently and imploded during important games. Last season, it seemed as if everyone was waiting for the New York Giants signal caller to give the big game away.

But as each game got bigger and the pressure built, Eli, Peyton’s younger brother, didn’t crumble, stumble or even flinch. He was a steady as Tom Brady. The four-year veteran did the improbable in 2007, leading his Giants to a 17- 14 victory over the undefeated New England Patriots in the biggest game of the post season.

In that game it was Manning who was Brady-like, leading the team in a two-minute drill that resulted in a touchdown scored on a short pass to Plaxico Burress. With 30-seconds left in Super Bowl XLII, Manning had secured New York’s first championship since 1990.

Manning’s first four years of professional statistics give little evidence as to why the young quarterback’s fortunes changed in 2007. The 27 year-old’s total yards, interceptions, touchdown passes, sacks and quarterback rating in each of his last three seasons, when he played the full slate of 16 games each year, have been overall consistent.

If anything, his interceptions and times sacked both ticked up a slight amount in 2007. But last season, there seemed to be a turning point for Eli Manning and the Giants and it occurred during the final game of the regular season against the undefeated New England Patriots.

In that contest, which the Giants lost 35- 38, the Giant quarterback connected on 68.8% of his passes, threw four touchdowns and one interception and earned a rating of 118.6. In the final regular season contest, Manning and the Giants played just good enough to lose. After that loss, the team and their young leader played just good enough to win every post season game.

In the first two playoff contests of 2007, Manning was impressive, connecting on 74.1% of his passes against Tampa Bay and on 66.7% versus Dallas. His rating in the Bucs’ contest was 117.1 and he garnered an impressive 132.4 mark against the Cowboys. Although the Giants handily beat their first playoff opponent Tampa Bay 24-14, Dallas proved to be tougher as the Giants eked out a 21- 17 win.

But it wasn’t just Manning who stepped up. The Giants defense really started to come alive in the post season. Against the Cowboys, they sacked Romo twice and grabbed an interception. Romo connected on just 50% of his throws.

In the final two games, it was the Giants defense that set the tables for victory, and it was a mature Manning, playing good enough to not lose in the Green Bay game and tough enough to win in the Super Bowl that lead the Giants to their first championship in over 15 years.

In game 14 of the regular season last year, the Giants lost star, loudmouth tight end Jeremy Shockey to a broken leg. That meant that everyone had to elevate their game in order to win. And everyone did, including Manning.

Shockey may or may not be back in 2008. Whether he is or not, look for a new confidence in the entire Giant organization and for that to feed their pursuit of another championship. Late in the 2007 season, the New York Giants became a team with a clearly defined leader. That should carry through into this season.

Paul mroczka
Sports Pundit member

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