Eli Manning’s emotional sendoff doesn’t guarantee he will say goodbye immediately.
The 16-year veteran yesterday gave the Giants and their fans another unforgettable highlight in leading the team to a 36-20 victory against the Miami Dolphins in what was potentially his final NFL start and/or appearance.
But the Giants have two games remaining, Sunday in Washington and Dec. 29 at home against Philadelphia. And while the sprained ankle that forced Daniel Jones to the inactive list the last two games is improving, coach Pat Shurmur isn’t certain if the rookie quarterback will get the clearance to line up against the Redskins. If he doesn’t, Manning would make career start No. 235 with a chance to get back over .500 (he is 117-117).
“If Daniel can’t go and Eli is our starter, we are going to go in with the idea that we’re going to put a winning performance on the field against Washington.” Shurmur said on a conference call today.
The Giants players were off today – an idea first raised by Manning in his postgame locker room speech – and will return to the practice field on Wednesday. That’s when Shurmur will get a clearer sense if Jones will play in Washington.
“We’ll just have to see,” Shurmur said. “Even though this is what they call a victory Monday, there’s a lot of players in the building today getting weight training, treatment and studying tape. We’ll just push him along like we did last week. We started the week with the idea that he might be ready to play, and we’ll do the same this week.”
Manning is no boat-rocker, but he’d certainly prefer to spend Sunday afternoon playing on the field than watching from the sideline.
“Of course, I’d like to,” he said at his news conference following the game. “I know Daniel’s getting close to getting ready and getting better. We’ll see what his status is. I get it either way. I know they want to get him back and get him more experience and more reps and everything. Whatever I’m asked to do, I’ll do it.”
That’s exactly what he did yesterday when he threw a pair of touchdown passes and led the Giants on four scoring drives in a 29-point second half. The result was a long-sought victory for a team that had lost its previous nine games.
But what made the day special was the love shown Manning. He received a long and loud standing ovation when his name was announced prior to the Giants’ first offensive series. Many fans held signs demonstrating their affection for the quarterback who has never missed a game because of injury and who won the MVP award in two Super Bowl victories. Shurmur removed Manning from the game with 1:50 remaining, prompting more cheering and chanting of his name. He was surrounded by his teammates, first when he reached the bench area and again when Shurmur presented him with a game ball in the locker room.
“Eli earned all the really good things that happened to him yesterday over many, many years,” Shurmur said. “Yesterday, in particular, he helped lead us to victory. The appreciation that the fans were able to show for many, many years of being an outstanding player for the Giants, I think we can all learn a lot from that. I think his availability, his ability to play, he’s played almost every game he was suited up to play. I think there’s a lot to be enjoyed and savored in some of the praise Eli received yesterday. I think it was all for the right reasons.”
Shurmur, however, is not stuck on sentiment. He has repeatedly said Jones will play when he is healthy enough to do so. Shurmur believes the young quarterback and his teammates can all benefit from the experience playing two more games will give them.
“I think it’s important for not only Daniel if he gets back in there but for the whole team,” Shurmur said. “It’s been pretty well documented for most of the year how young our players are. Young players, if they’re good players, they can improve and it can bleed into next season as long as they have a great offseason. I think it would be the same for him.”
Although they endured a long and disappointing stretch, the Giants now have an opportunity to finish the season with a three-game winning streak. If they do, can they create momentum that will carry over into next season?
“I think it helps if you use it as motivation to have an outstanding offseason,” Shurmur said. “If the players that have played on the team this season recognize that what we did this year wasn’t good enough, and that if you believe in hard work and preparation, then it should be motivation to work hard in the offseason and prepare for next year.”
This week, the Giants will focus on playing Washington – no matter who starts at quarterback.
*Sterling Shepard had more than twice as many catches and receiving yards as any other Giants player yesterday when he finished with season-high totals of nine receptions and 111 yards.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Shurmur said. “He made some plays. I think he had a productive game and he played well. … He’s like a lot of the guys that we’ve had coming back from injury. Who knows how long it takes him to get back to what he should look like? He had a real positive impact on the game.”
*So did Nick Gates, who played the entire game at right guard in place of the injured Kevin Zeitler (ankle). It was the first-year pro’s second extensive action. He took every snap at right tackle against the Jets on Nov 10.
“He did a nice job, and I’m not surprised by it,” Shurmur said. “When he played against the Jets, his man didn’t touch the quarterback, he was productive in the run game, and he played at tackle. He went and played guard this week for (Kevin) Zeitler and had a very, very productive game. He’s a good, solid football player. He’s a little bit like (cornerback Sam) Beal, he’s here for the second year, but last year was like year zero because he was hurt, and he’s done a good job. He’s a steady performer and he’s got a bright future.”