Giants quarterback Eli Manning throws a pass under pressure from San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) on Nov. 12, 2018, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

USA TODAY Images

Keidel: Win Over 49ers A Testament To Manning's Toughness, Former Greatness

QB Leads Giants To Come-From-Behind Victory Over 49ers

November 13, 2018 - 10:37 am
Categories: 

Even at his Super Bowl best, Eli Manning has been enigmatic and athletically bipolar since he's been quarterback of the New York Giants. There isn't another surefire Hall of Famer of recent vintage who's career has been professionally split like the Good Eli and Bad Eli. 

But perhaps for the last time, we were treated to the Good Eli. Fittingly, it came on the standalone, nationally televised stage of "Monday Night Football." In a career filled with frighteningly woeful and shockingly good performances, Manning earned his 27th career fourth-quarter comeback in San Francisco, muscling the offense past the 49ers, 27-23

Watch every Giants game season this season with fuboTV -- click to start free trial now

In typical Manning manner, he completed a pedestrian 19 passes out of 31 attempts for a paltry 188 yards. But he also threw for three touchdowns, two to electric wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who so many thought Eli couldn't find or reach anymore. But despite entering the NFL on the back nine of his QB's career, Beckham has still snagged 43 TD passes from Manning. 

Cynics will assert that all Eli did was beat a backup quarterback in Nick Mullens, whose job is to keep the cockpit warm until Jimmy Garoppolo returns from a knee injury. The Giants are still 2-7, still nestled in last place in the NFC East and going nowhere. But in an odd way, this game was a testament to Manning's toughness, if not his former greatness. Perhaps the former feeds the latter. 

Manning never had his big brother's rapid-fire football mind or his pinpoint passing talent. He doesn't have Russell Wilson's fast-twitch magic in the pocket or Aaron Rodgers' dancer's feet and pocket awareness. But while our town trades on the money and marble of Madison Avenue, we really root for the blue-collar stiff who built the city.

Manning may not be a proletarian in any social or monetary sense, but as an employee of the Giants, he's showed up for work every day, played every game and taken every snap he's been allowed to. Yes, Manning has his maddening games, and even Monday night he underthrew a wide-open Beckham that surely would have sealed a 77-yard score. But for all his lowlight moments, interceptions and sacks, no one ever doubted his temerity, or that intangible part of the human soul that rises every time he's floored. 

Monday night proved that Eli can still play quarterback when given the time and tools to do so. And while this season has been a singular, misguided referendum on Manning's decay as a player, it's doubled as a sermon on the lack of talent around him, from the defense that made Greg Kittle look like Kellen Winslow, to the offensive line that could give him long-term PTSD. 

This is not to say Big Blue should keep Manning at QB for three more years. The Giants would be wise to let him walk after this season and flirt with Oregon prospect Justin Herbert or whomever the brass thinks can be the next Eli. The NFL's cruel acronym, Not For Long applies to stars of all stripes. There comes a time when All-Stars and all stars must exit the stage. And there's no doubt the NFL's grim reaper is scratching at the Manning door. Not even the ephemeral fragrance of a road win erases the stench of a 2-7 season. 

But even on a night when we laughably declare that Manning was fighting for his job, about to be dethroned by a backup (Kyle Lauletta) who was just arrested for allegedly not having the common sense to obey a traffic cop, the Giants' iconic QB said little, showed up and played hard, just as he has since 2004. 

The NFL quarterback is the most crucial spot in sports, the vessel through which the energy of a game flows. But even the best quarterbacks need help. And the Giants, like so many of us, have asked Manning to prosper in a poisoned environment of fired coaches, locker-room backbiting, anonymous quotes and a general sense of apathy or mutiny. It's not a coincidence that the Giants stopped scoring 30 points after they canned Tom Coughlin. It's not a coincidence that Manning hasn't faltered under the twin burdens of age and organizational mayhem. He may have been part of an overall problem. But he's never been the source of the problem. 

It's astonishing how quickly we forget the good times someone has given us, then only recall it after that someone is gone. When the Giants finally try to find Manning's replacement, they, like the rest of us, will soon find there isn't another Eli Manning, both the Good Eli and the Bad Eli. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​.