*Eli Manning reacts to the news that Geno Smith will start Sunday vs. the Raiders: *
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As he has done every week in his storied Giants career, Eli Manning today stood in front of his locker and patiently and candidly answered reporters’ questions. But today was much different.
Manning, who has started 210 consecutive regular-season games (plus 12 in the playoffs) since 2004, will be the Giants’ backup quarterback when they visit the Oakland Raiders Sunday. The team announced today that Geno Smith will start in his place.
“It’s hard,” Manning said when asked how the decision affected him emotionally. “It’s been a hard day to handle this. But hang in there and figure it out.”
Manning could have kept alive his epic starting streak, the second-longest by a quarterback in NFL history. Coach Ben McAdoo had a proposal to continue it while also giving playing time to Smith and rookie third-round draft choice Davis Webb.
“The game plan going in was a plan (to play Manning) for a half and play Geno for the second half,” McAdoo said. “We decided after our conversation this morning that we’ll give Geno the ball starting at the beginning of the game.”
Manning didn’t want to start the game if he wouldn’t have an opportunity to finish it.
“I just didn’t think that you start knowing that you’re going to come out of a game to keep a streak alive, maybe,” Manning said. “That’s not what it’s about. It’s not a preseason game, where you’re going to play the start to the half, what’s the next week? A quarter, a series, that’s not fair. That’s not fair to me, that’s not fair to Geno, that’s not how you play. You play to win. You’re named the starting quarterback, you think it’s your job to go win the football game. When you know you’re just going to play a little bit, I didn’t feel like that was the right way to play. … When you’re just going out there to play knowing you’re not going to finish the game, I just didn’t see that being the right thing.”
McAdoo was on Green Bay’s coaching staff for part of Favre’s streak, so he has a unique appreciation of how difficult it is for a quarterback to start so many games consecutively.
“The streak obviously is very important to Eli,” McAdoo said. “I have a lot of respect for everything that Eli has done in this league and for this organization, and a lot of respect for the streak. I see what he goes through each and every week to get ready to play and how consistent he is. I don’t want to speak for Eli, but I don’t believe he would want to tarnish the record, and I’ll leave it at that.”
The Giants fell to 2-9 with their Thanksgiving night loss in Washington. Injuries have gutted both their receiving corps and their offensive line. The Giants are averaging 15.6 points a game; only the winless Cleveland Browns have scored fewer points.
McAdoo said he began pondering a change over the weekend. He consulted with general manager Jerry Reese and team ownership. Yesterday, he discussed his thoughts in a meeting with Manning.
“We sat down and talked about it and left it overnight to think about it a little bit more,” McAdoo said. “Then we talked about it this morning, and decided on this is the best direction for the team.”
Manning, as he has so often done, shouldered responsibility for the offense’s struggles.
“Coach Mac called me in,” Manning said. “Told me that we were going to start splitting some time, and thought it was best to give Geno the start and I’ll back him up. I’ll be a good teammate. I don’t like it, but it’s part of football. You handle it. I didn’t do my job.”
Manning was last a backup on Nov. 14, 2004, when Kurt Warner started his final game for the Giants. He wasn’t expecting to reprise that role this week.
“I didn’t know what was going to occur,” Manning said. “Hey, we’re 2-9. Kind of uncharted territory, so you don’t know what to expect when you’re in that situation.”
Manning will turn 37 on Jan. 3. McAdoo quickly answered “no” when asked if this is “the end of Eli Manning in New York.”
“I have a lot of confidence in Eli as a player, as a quarterback,” McAdoo said. “But at this point, it’s my responsibility for the organization to make sure we take a look at Geno and at some point take a look at Davis, and give them the opportunity to show what they can do heading into next year.”
Manning said he isn’t thinking about long-term implications. Though he won’t start, his focus remains where it has always been, beating the next opponent and being the best teammate he can be.
“I told Geno I’d be here for him,” Manning said. “I sat down with him today and going over the script and going over plays, and just make sure he’s comfortable with everything and knows how to go out there and give him a chance to be successful.”