Sunday night will mark an immense milestone in Eli Mannings career, but to him it's just another must-win game against a fierce opponent:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.– The Giants' season-opener Sunday night in Dallas will be a milestone event for Eli Manning, and not just because it's a prime time contest against a fierce division rival.
Manning will start his 200th consecutive regular-season game when the Giants take on the Cowboys in AT&T Stadium. Only two quarterbacks in NFL history have reached that plateau: Brett Favre started 287 consecutive games for Green Bay, the Jets and Minnesota from 1992-2010, and Peyton Manning had 208 straight starts for Indianapolis from 1998-2010.
Eli Manning has started every Giants game since Nov. 21, 2004. But like every one of his impressive statistics, the 200th consecutive start is just another number for Manning to shrug off and dismiss.
"It's the first game of the season," he said. "That's the way I am looking at it, and I want to go out there and try to get a win."
Manning derives more pride from what the number represents – his durability, his consistency, and his reliability. It is important to him that his teammates can count on him in every game they play. Sunday will be his 202nd game – he played twice as a reserve before becoming the starter – breaking a tie with George Martin for the third-highest total by a player in franchise history.
"I think as a quarterback, as a player, you want to be out there each and every week for your team with the other guys," Manning said. "There are tons of guys that play hurt and play injured, and you know they are doing what they can to practice and be there for me. I want to make sure they know I am going to do everything I can to be out there for them, as well."
Manning is 5-7 in season-opening games. He has always kept his emotions under wrap, and has never admitted to being nervous in a football game. But the first game of any season delivers an elevated level of excitement, and Manning has had it all week.
"I think there is always a special, certain feeling for that first game of a season," he said. "There's excitement, whether it's butterflies and you just want to get that first play, get it snapped and get it run, so you can get back into your rhythm and feel of playing football like you've been doing your whole life."
This game will be different for Manning, if for no other reason than he will be throwing to a pair of prominent new targets in wide receiver Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram. And of his top three receivers in 2016, one will definitely not be in Dallas, and another might not play. Three-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham, Jr., the team's leading pass-catcher each of the last three seasons, is questionable for the game with an ankle injury. Tight end Will Tye, who finished third on the team with 48 catches, was waived last week.
Manning has seen constant roster turnover in the last 13 years, so the temporary loss of a star player, and the responsibility of helping new teammates learn the offense, is not going to worry him.
"I think guys know what their assignments are," he said. "Just go about our business and still run the same plays and guys have to know how to execute, and we have the guys that can do that.
"Brandon and I will be on the same page. But there's always a learning curve. We're on the same page. It doesn't mean we'll complete every pass that I throw to him, but we've gotten a lot of work and communicate all the time about the different things. So I expect us to go out there and make the plays that we need to make."
Manning has started 25 regular-season games against each of the Giants' three NFC East opponents. He is 13-12 against Dallas (plus 1-0 in the postseason). Manning knows the Cowboys as well as any other team. And while he has played against many outstanding linemen and defensive backs, Manning has learned to keep an eye out for linebacker Sean Lee, who is annually Dallas' leading tackler.
"He seems to always be around the ball," Manning said. "He seems to have a good feel for what's happening, and he does his job very well. But then sometimes he goes above his job to make plays. He sees things well and reacts to the ball and sheds a lot of blockers and makes a lot of tackles."
Studying Lee is another element in the meticulous preparation that has been a huge contributor to Manning's success for 200 consecutive games. He's eager to start his 14th season in a Giants uniform.
"Excited about this upcoming season," he said. "It's always an honor. You don't take it for granted, being able to play in this league and be a starting quarterback. A lot of hard work went into it. Looking forward to going out there on the game days and making plays and winning some football games."
With Eli Manning, some things never change.
Photos of Eli Manning during the 2016 season