EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – He has already played more games than any player in Giants history and when he takes his first snap on Sunday, Eli Manning will become the first to play 16 seasons with the franchise.
Sixteen years in any job is impressive, let alone quarterback, with its constant physical pounding and mental challenges, the ceaseless scrutiny and pressure to win, and potential successors lurking in every college class. Manning has two Super Bowl MVP awards, numerous passing records and universal admiration as a player and person, but he deserves to take a bow for his longevity alone.
Not that he’d ever do that. Because for Manning, what is important never concerns individual achievement and past accomplishments. It’s always about team goals and the next challenge. And this week the focus in both of those areas is the season opener Sunday afternoon against NFC East rival Dallas in AT&T Stadium.
“Just excited, excited about this team, the players we have, about the work we have been able to accomplish these last five weeks,” Manning said today. “Looking forward to making all that count toward the first regular season game, in the division, on the road. A great opportunity for us to go out there and play well.”
Manning played sparingly in the preseason, throwing only 13 passes on 28 snaps in the first three games before sitting out the finale in New England. He completed nine of those throws.
That was more combined action than the three players who figure to be the Giants’ primary offensive weapons against the Cowboys. Neither Saquon Barley nor Sterling Shepard stepped on the field, and Evan Engram participated in 10 plays, all in Cincinnati. For the first time, Manning will get to utilize the team’s Rookie of the Year running back and best wide receiver and tight end.
“Obviously, we have to get all three of those guys involved,” Manning said. “It’s just a matter of everybody doing their job, that’s what a team is. It’s 11 guys all on the same page to have success. It starts up front with the offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage, finding running lanes and me finding the open receivers and then executing running and catching the ball and doing the fundamentals correctly. I think we have guys that know what they are doing and they can make great plays when you give them the opportunity.”
One of the most important determinants of offensive success will be the line, which has been rejuvenated by the arrival of guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Mike Remmers on the right side, and the return of center Jon Halapio, who missed the final 14 games last season with a leg injury. Tackle Nate Solder and guard Will Hernandez, both of whom played every snap last season, remain on the left side.
Manning was sacked a career-high 47 times last year. And though he has never once mentioned it – again, not his style – it states the obvious to say the Giants would like their 38-year-old quarterback to absorb less punishment.
“I think the offensive line is strong,” Manning said. “I think for the talent and the guys we brought in and the old guys we have and just the comfort level the guys have. That first year going into a new offense last year with a lot of new guys can take a little time for everybody to get on the same page. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to have mistakes before you fix them. I think now a more vet group, a more experienced group with guys that have been around and played together, I think a lot of the questions have already been answered and now we have to go out there and play well.”
That’s really all that concerns Manning this week. Other potential issues or impending milestones are just clutter to be swept aside. Take, for example, the question he fielded from a reporter about whether the presence of first-round draft choice and heir apparent Daniel Jones will “push you more.”
“I don’t think that’s necessarily the concern,” Manning said. “I think you are pushed to go succeed always. You prepare to go out there and win football games, that’s the mindset. You want to do it for all the guys in this locker room, the coaches, this organization, the fans and everybody that puts so much effort into having a great year. That pushes you more than who else is on your team.”
He is similarly unmoved about crossing the 16-season threshold.
“I guess it is something to be proud of,” Manning said, “and I’m just blessed to be with this organization. No one has enjoyed playing for this organization more than I have, and I’ve been appreciative of it. I have a great respect and love for the Giants and the whole history of the organization.”
Manning is a huge part of that history. He hopes to begin writing some more of it, beginning Sunday.
*Pro Football Hall of Famers Mel Hein and Michael Strahan and quarterback Phil Simms are the only other players to wear a Giants uniform for 15 seasons.
*Manning – who has started every Kickoff Weekend game since 2005 – will become the fourth quarterback in history to start at least 15 consecutive season openers with one team. He will join the following players: Brett Favre (15 with Green Bay from 1993-2007), Dan Marino (16 with Miami from 1984-99), John Elway (16 with Denver from 1983-98).
*Manning statistical oddity of the day: In his first 15 seasons, Manning was sacked 406 times for losses totaling 2,826 yards. At home, he was sacked 203 times for 1,417 yards. On the road, he was sacked 203 times for 1,409 yards.