by Michael Basile @MdoubleJB

A recent discussion of how in today’s NFL, it’s unlikely you’ll see a Trent Dilfer/Brad Johnson type QB win a SuperBowl. Brady, Mahomes, and all recent winning QBs are viewed as great. The most criticized winning QBs in the last 15 years would probably be Eli Manning and Joe Flacco. That’s what lead me to this thought.

Eli missed the postseason too many times in his career and had a few seasons where he played average football by some standards. He also had a few flat out bad seasons, no doubt about it.  That doesn’t take away from what he did in 2011.

Eli’s 2011 was legendary:

 – 6 wins that were 4th quarter comebacks and had game winning drives for a 9-7 team

 – NFL record 15 TD passes in the 4th quarter

 – 4933 pass yards 

 – 109 QB rating on 3rd downs 

 – 103 rating in 2nd half of games

 – 110 rating in 4th quarter

 – 121 rating during 1 score games in the 4th quarter 

 – 32nd ranked run game (last in NFL)

 – 27th ranked defense by yardage, 25th ranked by points allowed 

 – 19-28 passes completed for 270 yards, 3 TDs, 134.52 rating. This bullet point is Eli Manning’s 4th quarter stats from two Super Bowls. 

Most clutch ever?

In a study done a few years ago for all postseason QBs, he ranked as the most clutch performer ever to that point. It was based on which teams were favored in the playoff games, the QBs expectations on paper, who was supposed to win, compared to actual outcomes.

Eli’s greatness can’t be quantified by stats – similar to Derek Jeter in that way.  Yes of course, they both have accumulated statistics that put them on top 10 lists for several categories, but their true value can’t be measured by numbers alone.

This is what brings me to the memory of watching the games in 2011. People forget but single handedly dragged a bad team to victories. Many times it was when they were down multiple scores late in games.  Week after week we witnessed clutch performances when it was do or die.  

The defining moment:

I remember this one like it was yesterday. With 6 and 6 losses, they visited the division leading 7-5 Cowboys in Dallas. Big blue was coming off 4 straight losses and another one here would end the year.

On the night of December 11th, 2011, the Cowboys offense was having their way with the Gmen D. The first time they touched the ball in the 4th quarter, they marched 80 yards in 4 plays in 1:31 to take a 27-22 lead. The next drive was even easier for Tony Romo. It only took  2 plays and 54 seconds to find the endzone. As Romo found a wide-open Dez Bryant for a 50 yard touchdown, so many emotions started running through me. It felt like the play was unfolding in slow motion. I can see the ball in the air, there are no Giant defenders in sight. It was over.

The Coughlin-Eli era was about to end.     There was an eight a year run and a Lombardi trophy in 2007. Since then there were no playoff victories from the tandem of Coughlin and Manning. And if we are being honest, there was plenty of disappointment. The magical run of 2007 was a distant memory. Especially when you consider what transpired in that time.

 – 2008 they shot themselves in the leg (sorry Plax); They were 11-1 with road victories against the eventual SuperBowl participants Pittsburgh and Arizona. Philadelphia beat The Giants in the 1st round of the playoffs.

 – 2009 they started 5-0 only to finish 8-8 thanks to a defense that ranked 30th in points allowed. 

 – 2010 we saw one of the biggest collapses in NFL history. The Giants choked away a 31-10 4th quarter lead at home to the Eagles . . . 

 – The memories are painful of Desean Jackson in 2010 and now Dez Bryant. One would think this was the final straw for Tom Coughlin and this regime.  

All this ran through my mind as the Cowboys took a 34-22 lead.  There was 5:41 left in the game, the season, and the clock was ticking on several key members of this era of Giants football.  The feeling of disappointment quickly turned to anger.  I began thinking about what head coaching candidates the Giants should look to hire.  

Then, Eli Manning happened. 

 – An 8 play 80 yard touchdown drive took 2:27 off the clock cut the lead to 34-29.

 – The Cowboys went 3 and out, and please do not credit the Giants defense, it was only because Romo couldn’t connect with a wide open Miles Austin on 3rd down. Austin had been battling a hamstring injury, holding him back from an additional extra burst to catch up to what was certainly going to be a clincher. 

 – Then, in 6 plays Eli drove the team 58 yards in 1:26.  

 – 37-34 final, Giants and Cowboys both were 7-6. A few weeks later the Giants beat Dallas again on the last week of the season. It was due or die for the NFC East crown and Eli threw for 346 and 3 TDs to beat the Cowboys for a 2nd time. 

I can’t help but think back to that moment down 34-22 with 5:41 left. Within the span of a few minutes, we went from the end of an era to the beginning of a legend.

I’ll never forget.

It’s easy to find the greatness if you look.