EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When Eli Manning last threw a pass in a game, Darius Slayton and Golden Tate had never caught one for the team and 11 players on the current roster – including three who started Sunday vs. Green Bay – were not on the team.
Yes, a lot has changed in 11 weeks. But the more things change…
Rookie Daniel Jones, who has started each of the last 10 games, has a "moderate high ankle sprain," coach Pat Shurmur said today, so Manning will "very likely" be the Giants' starting quarterback when they face the Eagles Monday night in Philadelphia.
It would be Manning's 233rd regular-season start, his 30th vs. the Eagles (plus two in the postseason), his 16th in Lincoln Financial Field (plus one playoff game) and his 21st on Monday Night Football. He last played on Sept. 15, when he completed 26 of 45 passes for 250 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 28-14 home loss to Buffalo.
"I think you're always eager to play, that's why you play," Manning said in a familiar setting – standing in front of his locker, surrounded by reporters – in his first public comments since it was announced Jones would be the starter in Week 3. "That's why you compete, and you work out and do everything - to go out there and compete on gameday and get wins and put your team in a situation to win. I think when you're not doing that, you miss it, and you're excited about the competitive part of it."
Manning, 38, started 210 consecutive regular-season games – then the second-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history, now the third-longest – from 2004-17. He sat for a week before starting 22 more in a row.
After throwing more than 8,000 passes in all those games, what has it been like to be a spectator for 10 games?
"A little different trying to adjust to it and always be prepared to go," Manning said. "Try to get Daniel as prepared as possible each week. I faced a lot of the teams that we have been playing and just look through old notes and tips on trying to diagnose defenses. Also trying to get myself ready to play each week."
Now Manning is making another emotional U-turn. He took all of the first-team reps in practice today and barring a rapid recovery by Jones, will be under center when the Giants try to snap their eight-game losing streak. Alex Tanney would be the backup.
"Eli looks good," coach Pat Shurmur said. "He's been ready to play all year. If in fact he does play this week, he will be ready to go."
"We'll see what happens Monday, but business as usual," Manning said. "In the sense of you get the game plan, start prepping for Philly. (We're) going against a good defense we've faced a number of years, (we) know them well. Just have to get back in the mix with the offensive line and receivers, make sure timing is where it needs to be."
Shurmur's expectations for Manning are just as they were in the first 18 games he coached him.
"I expect him to go out and have a winning performance," Shurmur said. "That's what I expect.
"We're not going to worry. We're going to go play, be aggressive about it, give him the things that he can do well and take it from there."
Shurmur said a move back to Manning will not significantly influence his play-calling.
"It'll be similar," he said. "There will be a play or two different, but again, Eli's been ready to go in case he had to play the last 10 weeks. Now he'll get himself more ready to go."
The Giants' players were sorry to learn of Jones' injury, but they are confident in and supportive of Manning.
"I expect him to be the same Eli," wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. "He's the ultimate pro. When your name is called and you're the ultimate pro, you step up and do your thing. That's what I expect of him and that's what I know he is going to do."
"His experience can help, for sure," center Jon Halapio said. "Especially going into a hostile environment, having a veteran like him coming in and taking control, a proven veteran at that, playing at a high level. It's definitely going to be helpful for us offensively. To have him come back in the starting role is huge for us, to see him. We're happy that he gets to play again. We don't want to see D.J. or any of our teammates hurt. But given the circumstances that we're in right now, we're happy for Eli."
Since he became the backup, Manning's weekly routine has changed little – except on gameday. He is still in the Quest Diagnostics Training Center on the players' day off, watching tape with Jones and Tanney to glean as much information as possible about the upcoming opponent. He's on the field for every practice, but he's running the opponent's plays for the scout team against the Giants defense instead of for the offense.
"It is difficult," Manning conceded. "Especially when you've been the starter for so long and you're not really accustomed to preparing and preparing and not putting it to use, in that sense. I think just having a lot of experience and knowing the offense and knowing I can pop in there and be ready to go at any time."
As it has been for almost three months, the great unanswered question is, what will Manning do after the season? This is the final year of his contract. He turns 39 in less than a month. Shurmur said Jones is "week-to-week," so it remains to be seen if and when he will be healthy enough to play.
But Manning won't address any of that now.
"Just take it one game at a time," Manning said. "You never want to try to make decisions about your future while you're still living in the present and don't know the circumstances of what could happen. Just have to go out there and try to get a win for the Giants if I'm asked to do that. I'll analyze everything else after the season."
Manning's sole focus now is to find a way to beat a division rival that has defeated the Giants in nine of the last 10 meetings. No matter what happens, he is going to enjoy being back on the field. That was evident when he was asked what's been his most difficult adjustment in the last 11 weeks.
"Not playing in the games," he said. "You miss being a part of the action and practicing and all that. Felt good to get out there today and throw it around and compete a little bit."
Just imagine what Monday night will be like.
Photos from the career of two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning