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The Giants quarterback turns in by far his best playoff performance, leading a rally.
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA, Times Staff Writer
Published January 7, 2008
TAMPA - Among the many things Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been criticized for is a stoic demeanor that borders on blah, a quality that doesn't mesh well with the bright lights and blood-pumping fervor of New York.
On Sunday, Manning proved he didn't have to be flashy to be great, and in the process got his first playoff win after first-round losses the past two postseasons.
Manning's passing numbers weren't startling in Sunday's 24-14 NFC wild-card win over the Bucs. But three days after his 27th birthday, Manning showed a calm maturity in overcoming a horrendous first quarter - in which the Giants had minus-2 yards of total offense - to lead three efficient touchdown drives.
"My thought process was to play really safe against this team," said Manning, who threw 20 interceptions and lost seven fumbles in the regular season, both career highs. "Don't force anything. They do a great job of getting turnovers. I wanted to get the ball out quick. Don't throw interceptions. Don't sit back there too long where they can cause fumbles."
He erased an early seven-point deficit in the second quarter, completing nine of 10 passes before the half and rallying the Giants to back-to-back touchdown drives. Manning later put the game out of reach with a 15-play, 92-yard drive that began with 1:40 left in the third quarter and ended nearly seven minutes into the fourth. Manning ended up 20-of-27 for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He was 26-for-45 for 274 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions in his first two postseason games.
"We didn't get any big plays, but we did get some nice steady opportunities to convert," said Tom Coughlin, who earned his first playoff win in four seasons as Giants coach. "I thought that was the best thing (Manning) did."
Manning made his living on hitches and short post routes. He sustained long drives without big plays - his longest completion was 21 yards - mainly because the Giants were 5-of-9 on third-down conversions in the final three quarters, all passing.
"He didn't go deep on us, he didn't go over the top," Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "It was actually more those little annoying third-down conversions when he needed like third and 8 and he got 8 1/2, so that was frustrating."
Manning has had ups and downs in New York. It comes with the territory. "There hasn't been a lot of time when I've been here in New York when they love their quarterback," veteran receiver Amani Toomer said.
But Manning couldn't help but relish his first postseason win. Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said this was "more excited than I've ever seen him."
"This is fun," Manning said. "This is what it's all about. This is where you want to get to. You want to get into the playoffs and make this run and win a game and keep things going. We've been here before but we've never been able to pass this level. We've done that now, but we can't be completely satisfied."
Eli's changing fortune
Eli Manning, the No.1 overall draft pick in 2004, was 0-2 in the playoffs until Sunday. His showing against the Bucs propelled the Giants to their first playoff victory since 2000. Manning's playoff history:
Date C-A-Yd TD Int Rtg Result
Sun. 20-27-185 2 0 117.1 W, 24-14
1-7-07 16-27-161 2 1 85.6 L, 23-20
1-8-06 10-18-113 0 3 35.0 L, 23-0
[Last modified January 6, 2008, 23:35:49]