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Vacchiano: All on Eli Manning to save Giants’ season

Ralph Vacchiano

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Friday, December 25, 2015, 10:04 PM

Eli Manning is having one of his best statistical seasons yet and it could all go to waste as the Giants need plenty of help to reach the playoffs.Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Eli Manning is having one of his best statistical seasons yet and it could all go to waste as the Giants need plenty of help to reach the playoffs.

Eli Manning has been as good as he’s ever been for most of this season, yet all he has to show for it is another wasted year of his prime. His supporting cast has failed him. And every week that cast seems to get a little thinner.

And now, with the only other star on his team yanked out of the lineup, the Giants will look to Manning to save their season again — assuming there’s even a season left to save.

It never should have come to this, given the way Manning has played, but it has. With Odell Beckham serving a one-game suspension, the Giants desperately need Manning to carry their badly undermanned team into their must-win game in Minnesota on Sunday night. The Giants know they don’t have any other reliable weapons. They know they don’t have a receiver capable of replacing Beckham.

So somehow Manning has to make do with whatever is left.

“I think his confidence is certainly there,” Tom Coughlin said. “I think you’d be less than completely honest if you said he didn’t wish (Beckham) was there, but I think his confidence is there.”

At this point it really would be understandable if it was wavering. Manning is on pace to have one of the finest statistical seasons for a quarterback in Giants’ history. And given the supporting cast around him, certainly no quarterback has ever done more with less.

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Manning will be without his biggest and seemingly only threat, Odell Beckham Jr. on Sunday night.Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Manning will be without his biggest and seemingly only threat, Odell Beckham Jr. on Sunday night.

But because the Giants failed to surround him with better players — and other than Beckham, there’s no one who even approaches Manning’s level — this is shaping up as another lost season for one of the greatest quarterbacks the Giants have ever had. No, he hasn’t been flawless. But his numbers rank up there with some of the NFL’s best. With just a little more support the Giants would be far better than their 6-8 record, and they might not have blown five leads in the final two minutes, or lost seven games by a total of 21 points.

Instead, what does Manning have to show for his effort? A 6-8 record, very likely a fourth straight year with no playoffs – and if Washington beats Philadelphia on Saturday night, that will be guaranteed before he even takes the field – and more lack of respect from around the NFL. He is portrayed as a quarterback who can’t pull his team out of its abyss, when the truth is he could sue his teammates for lack of support.

Not that Manning would ever blame his teammates, of course. But he can’t hide his frustrations about how, with all the near-misses, this promising season has gone so wrong.

“I’m still trying to deal with that and understand it,” he said. “I saw all the games on the computer screen and you just go down each one, and how many games we lost on either the last play of the game, or on a play within seconds of the game being over, how many close ones there are. I feel like every game has been that way. Every game we’ve had an opportunity, we’ve had a lead and lost it or maybe we were behind and fought back and just ran out of time.

“So I think we are a good team, we just haven’t been good enough to win some of these games.”

Manning has been good enough. He’s completed what would be a career-high 63.7% of his passes. He’s already thrown a career-high 32 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions, which puts him on pace for the second-lowest total in his career. And with 3,900 passing yards he’ll likely finish with his second most yards ever. And his passer rating of 96.1 would be his career high.

And despite the stunning lack of respect from fans who didn’t even vote him into the Top 10 among quarterbacks in Pro Bowl voting, he has done all that with no other option than Beckham in the passing game, while being constantly under pressure from a shaky offensive line, and with a running game that only lately has shown signs of life.

Sure it helped that he’s gotten an amazing 91 catches for 1,396 yards and 13 touchdowns from Beckham. But he’s also somehow pulled moderate production out of Rueben Randle (51-638-6) in his most disappointing season and from Dwayne Harris (35-390-4), who was never expected to have such a large role. Same goes for tight end Will Tye (34-369-2), a street free agent from Stony Brook who didn’t hit the active roster until October and didn’t become a factor until two other tight ends were hurt.

None of them will ever be confused with Amani Toomer or Plaxico Burress or even a younger, healthier Hakeem Nicks. The talent Manning had to work with in 2007 and even in 2011 just isn’t there.

And that’s a shame, because now the Giants are wasting more than just this season. Manning is a few days away from turning 35 years old. There’s no way to know how many more seasons like this he has left. They could be wasting the end of his stellar career.

No, it’s not over yet. But this season shouldn’t have come down to this impossible situation. Manning’s been too good, and a team just can’t waste a franchise quarterback’s prime.

Manning has done his part. He’s kept the Giants in contention. And maybe he’s even got one more miracle in his right arm.

Maybe Manning can do this all by himself, even without Beckham. It would just be nice if someone stepped up and offered a little help.


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