The biggest moment of Eli Manning's career is not a subject he wishes to discuss this week.
On Feb. 3, 2008, Manning threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Giants to a 17-14 victory over the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. On Sunday, the Giants and Patriots will play their first meaningful game against each other since that night when they meet in Gillette Stadium. That, of course, has prompted reporters to ask Manning, his teammates and Tom Coughlin to recall the details and share their emotions about that game.
But they have all done their best to respectfully decline and in the process, correctly note that a game played 46 months ago has no bearing on the outcome Sunday.
"All we're trying to do is prepare for the Patriots right now," Manning said today. "We're trying to get ready, go up there, play a great game. We know they're a good team. We know they're always a playoff team. It'll be great to see where we stand against a team that's as talented as they are and know that they always play well at home and just know it's a great challenge for us. Those are the games you get excited for."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, speaking to reporters who cover the Patriots, echoed those thoughts.
"That's a distant memory," Brady said of Super Bowl XLII. "There's not much you can take from that. This is an entirely different team that we have and that they have – strengths and weaknesses. There are so many players on our team that were obviously not a part of that game or any game against the Giants. We're familiar with them, we play them in the preseason mostly every year and we've played them in the preseason this year and that probably gives us a little more of an understanding of what they do than the game a few years ago or eight years ago or something like that."
Every member of the Giants who was with the team for the Super Bowl has the same mindset – it's a great memory, but irrelevant for the here and now.
"Obviously, you're going to keep hearing about the comparisons and the Super Bowl and everything like that," guard David Diehl said. "That's part of history and that's part of the Super Bowl and how great of a game it was. We're four years removed from that game. We didn't play them last year. That didn't just happen. This is a whole new year. They're a different team. We're a different team. You're going to hear all of that stuff throughout the week, but I don't think it plays a bearing into this game. We're focusing on this season and what they've been doing this year. They've been playing defense differently. They've been doing different things up front. You're going to hear that stuff, but I don't think it has a bearing on this game. It's the Giants versus the Patriots. This isn't the Super Bowl."
"That was a long time ago," Coughlin said. "There have been many changes on both sides, so we will focus on 'the now.'"
Inevitably, comparisons have been made between the Manning who played in that game and the quarterback he has become. Prior to the Super Bowl, the Patriots were believed to have a significant advantage at quarterback in Brady. That's no knock on Manning, considering Brady had already won three Super Bowls and that season had thrown an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes for the highest-scoring team (589 points) and only 16-0 team in league history.
But it was Manning who earned the Most Valuable Player Award in the Super Bowl. And he has since steadily improved.
This year, their statistics are very similar. Brady's passer rating of 104.4 is second in the NFL. Manning is right behind him at 102.1 Brady has completed 67.6 percent of his passes, Manning 64.7. Brady has 18 touchdown passes and eight interceptions, Manning 13 and five. Brady is averaging 8.68 yards per attempt, Manning is just ahead of him at 8.83.
Manning has deflected all attempts to make this game a showdown between Brady and him.
"I think when you go against New England that's all I'm thinking about," Manning said. "They're always a talented team, always a team that finds ways to win games, whether it's through their offense or defense. As a team, they're always very talented. We understand that we have to play solid football. We have to understand what our objectives are, what our goals are and try to accomplish them."
While Manning would never tout his individual statistics and accomplishments, his teammates are happy to promote him as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks and an invaluable leader.
"Eli has been doing an unbelievable job for our offense – the improvements that he's made," Diehl said. "Our offense goes the way Eli makes it go – the adjustments to not only the blocking schemes, but the Mike (middle linebacker) calls, his recognition of defenses is unbelievable and that's what allows him to go out there. With all of the blitz packages that (the Miami Dolphins) were bringing at us (last week), for him to be able to pick it apart. It's awful if you're playing against a guy like that, like Eli. I think it's a credit to him. The way that he's worked and the way that he's handled things. It's awesome."
"He's calm, he's confident, he talks to us," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "We understand what he expects from us, and when he exudes that kind of calmness, we kind of stay calm as well, and we don't lose our cool, and we stay under control, so to have our leader, our quarterback, react that way, it moves through the entire offense."
And how does Manning think he's evolved since that triumphant night almost four years ago?
"Played a lot of games," he said. "Tried to continue to learn and understand our offense. I've been in the same offense since. Grow and understand defenses and schemes. We have a lot of players on this offense who weren't in that game and didn't play. I've grown with these players these last three years. That game hasn't come into much thought this week, getting ready for this defense. They're doing different things. Just go in there and expect to do well."
No matter what the circumstances of the game are, with Manning, that never changes.
*The Giants practiced today without leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw and starting wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham.
Bradshaw has what Coach Tom Coughlin said is a "swollen and sore" foot, which he's had since the team's victory last week over Miami.
Nicks suffered a hamstring injury in that game.
"It's going to be day-to-day," Coughlin said of Nicks. "He tells me he's better and says all the right things." Manningham missed practice due to illness.
"I miss those guys," Victor Cruz said of his fellow receivers. "When they're not there I'm just all quiet listening to Webbie (Corey Webster) talk the whole time. But we understand it's part of the game. Rio was sick; he came down with a little something this morning, and Hakeem with his hamstring, so you just have to go in there and be ready, you have to know inside, outside, you have to know it all. And we did that today and we actually had a pretty good practice, things went smooth, no missed assignments, so it was a good day."
With Nicks' status uncertain, wide receiver Ramses Barden will get more work. He is still on the Reserve/PUP list.
"He's going to get pushed a little harder this week," Coughlin said. "He practiced probably 50 percent of the time last week and we'll see if he can continue, along with (cornerback) Prince (Amukamara). Prince will get a little bit more this week, too."
Center David Baas (knee), defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee/shoulder) and tackle Stacy Andrews (back) also missed practice.
"All I know is he had a sore shoulder, but he seems to think that it will be manageable," Coughlin said of Umenyiora. "He's not working today, but that's normal. He normally has Wednesday (off). Last week, he did work on Wednesday – and Thursday as well, and Friday."
Defensive end Justin Tuck, who played Sunday after missing three games with neck and groin injuries, was limited in practice, as was Amukamara and fullback Henry Hynoski (neck).
Linebacker Michael Boley (knee) practiced fully.
*Amukamara, the first-round draft choice who has not made his NFL debut because of the broken foot he suffered on Aug. 6, practiced with the scout team, as he did last week.
Asked what he needs to do to play in a game, Amukamara said, "Show that I can go full speed and not run with a limp. I didn't feel like I ran with a limp. My foot was sore a little bit but I am getting close."
*The Giants added defensive back Brandon Bing to their practice squad. Bing, a Rutgers product, is 5-9 and 180 pounds. He was signed as a rookie free agent by the Denver Broncos on July 27. Bing played in all four of Denver's preseason games and had five tackles. He was waived by Denver on Sept. 3. Bing was on the Buffalo Bills' practice squad from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1. At Rutgers, Bing played 41 career games (13 starts) and totaled 85 tackles (53 solo), three interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble.
The Giants terminated the practice squad contract of quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, who has done four separate stints on the squad this season.
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