EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – “Is this the end of Eli Manning?”
“Who knows?” said … Eli Manning. “I’m not dying and the season’s not over, so there’s a lot to be positive about, a lot to be grateful for, so I’ve just got to accept my new role and make the best of it.”
Manning today spoke to the media – the crush of reporters around his locker made it look like a postseason news conference – as a backup quarterback and was as unflappable, forthright and accountable as he has been through his 244 starts (including the postseason). The two-time Super Bowl MVP learned yesterday he will be backing up rookie Daniel Jones, who will make his first start Sunday at Tampa Bay.
Manning could have declined to publicly shed light on his feelings, but that’s never been his style. For the last decade or so, he has met the media on the day following a game only after a defeat. Yesterday Manning suffered another loss, the job he’s held for all but one game since 2004. Today, he remained true to himself and explained what that means to him.
“Obviously disappointed, not happy about it,” Manning said. “But you accept it and make the best of it.”
Manning was well-aware of the possibility he would be replaced this season from the moment Jones was selected sixth overall in the NFL Draft. After opening the season with losses to Dallas and Buffalo, coach Pat Shurmur decided to change quarterbacks this week.
Two years ago, Manning was placed in a similar situation when then-coach Ben McAdoo offered to have him start, but not finish, a game in Oakland. Manning turned him down but returned to the lineup one week later under interim coach Steve Spagnuolo. That experience helped Manning deal with the news he received yesterday.
“I think just knowing it’s a possibility and going into the season knowing if we didn’t get off to a good start, didn’t play well, that this would happen,” he said. “So, you don’t want it, you don’t plan for it or expect it, but I think you’ve just got to be prepared for it, and not be surprised by it. It helps you handle it a little bit easier.”
It was widely thought, however, that Manning would remain the starter for longer than two games.
“I didn’t know how everything was going to shake out this year,” he said. “You just know when you draft a young quarterback there’s a possibility that they’re going to play him if things don’t go well. We didn’t start fast, and that’s the situation we’re in now.”
Would Manning have returned this season knowing he would keep his job for just two weeks?
“Yeah, I think you give it a shot, and I’ve worked hard, competed, did everything I thought I could,” he said. “It just didn’t work out.”
Manning, 38, is one of the greatest players in Giants history. In addition to his championships, he is one of the most prolific passers in NFL history and he owns more records than any other player in the 95-year history of the franchise. He is also an extremely proud man faced with the possibility he has played his last game. Manning was asked how he’s handling that.
“There’s no other option but just to handle it and do my job, support my teammates, support the Giants, and do what I can do to try and go help win some football games,” he said. “Right now, that’s getting Daniel prepared and helping him and supporting him.
“I’ll support Daniel, I’ll be a good teammate and do what I’m told. When you’re a football player, you do what you’re told and this is what I’ve been told and I’ll handle it.”
Manning has never said anything remotely negative about the Giants and he’s not about to start now. He said he spoke to team president John Mara yesterday, “so everything’s been good and as positive as it can be.”
The biggest practical change for Manning is that he is taking reps with the scout team against the Giants defense, while Jones works with the starting offense.
“It’s a little different,” he said, “but you go about it and try to make good decisions and use good footwork and don’t get into bad habits.
“A lot of guys have been backups, and you’ve got to prepare. You might not get every rep, but I think when you have a lot of reps under your belt and have played against a lot of types of systems and know the system well, I’ll be ready. I think when you’re helping someone else get prepared, it prepares you in that sense.”
After receiving news yesterday that he is the team’s No. 2 quarterback, Manning immediately began helping Jones prepare for Sunday’s game. He has been a mentor to the 22-year-old rookie since Jones’ arrival, a role that becomes more important this week.
“In some ways, that was kind of part of the deal,” he said. “I’ve been trying to help him in every which way I could throughout the preseason and training camp, so now I’ll still do that. I’ll support him, answer his questions if he has any, don’t get him thinking too much, but just give him information that I’ve learned over 15 years that I think he could use.”
One subject Manning didn’t want to discuss is his future.
“Just taking this day by day, so just trying to figure out how to run a scout team,” he said. “That was my number one objective of today, and I thought I did pretty well.
“I’ll get into futures later on. Right now, my future is I’m the second-string quarterback of the Giants and I’ve got to get myself ready to play and do whatever I’m called upon and feel I need to do to help out the rest of my teammates.”
There’s no need to dwell on his future when there’s so much to do now. The 2019 Giants still have 14 games to play.
“The season’s not over, we’ve got a lot of football,” he said. “So, I’m just going to go do my part, do my job, get Daniel ready to play, be ready to play if called upon and support my teammates and get everybody ready.”
Would you expect anything different?