The Giants have jumped out to a 5-2 start and a two-game lead in the NFC East by tearing up the offensive script seemingly everyone expected them to adhere to when the season opened.
Remember that storyline all those months ago – well, it's actually only two, but that doesn't change the fact that the Giants are not what they were expected to be. The popular notion was the Giants were going to rely on their rushing game to power the offense. The theory held that with a reconfigured but largely experienced line and two productive backs in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, the Giants would grind it out while Manning adjusted to life without two familiar receivers and while throwing to new targets like Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard.
Well, the Giants have completely blown up that theory. Manning is on his way to the best statistical season of his eight-year career and the Giants have become one of the NFL's most productive passing teams. At the same time, the Giants rushing attack has unexpectedly sputtered.
Manning's passer rating of 102.1 places him third in the NFL, behind only Aaron Rodgers (125.7) and Tom Brady (104.4). Manning and Brady will be on the same field Sunday, when the Giants visit the 5-2 Patriots in New England. Manning's career rating entering the season was 80.2 with a high of 93.1 in 2009.
Manning has had a passer rating of at least 91.4 in each of the last six games, topped by a career-best 145.7 rating at Philadelphia on Sept. 25. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Manning is the first Giants quarterback with a rating of at least 90.0 in each of six consecutive games since the NFL implemented the passer rating system in 1973. In 2010, Manning had a rating higher than 90.0 five times the entire season.
The Giants quarterback has been at his best late in games. Manning's fourth-quarter passer rating of 119.3 is easily the league's best (Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick is second at 108.5). Manning has completed 70 percent of his fourth-quarter passes. He has led the Giants to victory four times in games in which they trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter, raising his career total to 18 such triumphs. He had one such win last year and his previous career best was three in a season (2007 and 2009).
Another statistical yardstick that demonstrates Manning's proficiency is the more obscure yards per attempt. Manning is second in the league at 8.83 yards, behind only Rodgers (9.92). Manning's career average entering the season was 6.80 yards per attempt with a high of 7.90 in 2009.
Manning's 64.7 completion percentage is fifth in the league. This is the fourth consecutive season Manning has improved his percentage. He set a career high at 62.9 last year. His career completion percentage entering the season was 58.0.
Manning is averaging 303.9 yards a game and is on pace to throw for 4,861 yards, which would not only shatter his career best of 4,021 yards two years ago, but the Giants record of 4,073, set by Kerry Collins in 2002. He is also on pace to throw 29 touchdown passes, two shy of the career-high he set last season.
But the Manning number that perhaps impresses Tom Coughlin more than any other is five. That's the number of interceptions Manning has thrown through seven games. Last year at this time he had thrown 11 picks, on his way to a career-high 25. Now he's on pace to finish with 11.
"He is obviously very aware of situations and circumstances," Coughlin said at his news conference yesterday. "He has been very accurate with the exception of one ball by our sideline in the first quarter (in Sunday's victory over Miami). The poise and confidence, the accuracy and the knowledge with all the studying that he does, the way that he performs is by knowing the opponent. He does a real good job with that and he has a lot of responsibility and he does a very good job with that.
"He has put together a very, very nice string. … He is playing very well and we expect that to remain that way."
With Manning throwing the ball and Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Cruz and Ballard catching it, the Giants are averaging 287.6 net passing yards a game, which places them fourth in the NFL. In the 25 seasons from 1986-2010 they never finished higher than sixth.
The 287.6 passing yards per game is easily the highest average through seven games in Giants history. The previous best was 265.9 yards in 1962. The Giants are on pace to obliterate their season-long record of 251.2 passing yards, set in 2009.
While the passing game has soared, the rushing attack has stumbled, which was not what was expected when the season began. The Giants are averaging 85.6 rushing yards per game and 3.2 yards a carry, which are 30th and 31st in the league, respectively.
This is the lowest per-game rushing average the Giants have had at this juncture since 1999, when they ran for an average of 83.4 yards through seven games. They have not rushed for so few yards game over a full season in 66 years; in 1945, the Giants rushed for 76.9 yards a game.
The story is similar with their per-carry average. The Giants haven't averaged less than 3.2 yards per attempt through seven games since 1991 (2.91) and over a full season since 1953 (2.64).
*Manning will start his 111th consecutive regular season game on Sunday in New England, moving into a tie for the fourth-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history. The man he will tie will be on the other side of the field; Brady started 111 consecutive games from 2001-2008.
*Coughlin needs one victory to move into the Top 20 on two all-time coaching victories lists.
The Giants' victory over Miami was the 138th regular season triumph of Coughlin's career. With his next victory he will tie Tony Dungy for 20th on the NFL's career list.
Including his eight postseason victories, Coughlin has 146 wins. With one more, he will tie Jeff Fisher for 20th on that list.
*The victory over the Dolphins was Coughlin's 70th in the regular season with the Giants. He is the third Giants coach to reach that total, joining Hall of Famer Steve Owen (153) and Bill Parcells (77).
*The Giants will face the Patriots for the first time since their epic victory over New England in Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, 2008. Fourteen Giants who played in that game are on the current 53-man roster: Manning, Bradshaw, Jacobs, Chris Snee, David Diehl, Kareem McKenzie, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Lawrence Tynes, Zak DeOssie, Dave Tollefson and Kevin Boothe. D.J. Ware and Adam Koets were inactive. Domenik Hixon played in the game and is now on injured reserve. Mathias Kiwanuka was then on injured reserve and is now the starting strongside linebacker.
New England has seven players remaining: Brady, Wes Welker, Kevin Faulk, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork and Steve Gostkowski. Dan Koppen, the Patriots' starting center in the Super Bowl, is currently on injured reserve.
Larry Izzo, the Giants' assistant special teams coach, was on that Patriots team and had one special teams tackle in the Super Bowl.
*The Giants lead the NFL with 26 sacks (the league average is 17.4) and are on pace to finish with 59. That would tie the second-highest total in franchise history; the 1986 Super Bowl champion Giants had 59 sacks. The team record of 68 sacks was set in 1985. The Giants finished the 2010 season with 46 sacks.
*Jason Pierre-Paul is fourth in the NFC and fifth in the NFL with 8.5 sacks.
*The Giants continued a statistical anomaly when they beat Miami. The Dolphins' Reggie Bush rushed for 103 yards. The Giants are 4-0 in games in which an opposing back runs for at least 100 yards. The rest of the league is 9-45 in such games.
*Tynes' two extra points on Sunday gave him a team-record 135 in a row, breaking Pete Gogolak's mark. But Tynes will have to swing his right leg a lot more to set the NFL record – 422 in a row by former Giants draft choice Matt Stover.
*In their last three games, the Giants gained 464, 414 and 402 yards, the first time they've had three consecutive 400-yard games since Oct. 25-Nov. 14, 2010.