Giant expectations OK with E. Manning

Pressure of New York, being No. 1 overall pick do not faze rookie QB

Pro Football

December 03, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Eli Manning could look at fellow rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and envy his nine-game winning streak with the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers.

Manning could also read in the newspaper about the AFC West-leading San Diego Chargers - who drafted him with last April's No. 1 overall pick before Manning and his representatives engineered a trade with the New York Giants - and secretly wish that he was playing for an 8-3 team.

Instead, Manning insists that he is happy to be playing in New York, where fans embraced the 23-year-old quarterback with a smattering of boos during last Sunday's 27-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I'm very comfortable where I am right now," Manning said during a conference call with Washington-area media. "I knew coming here that the fans are going to be rough if you're not playing good football. I'm going out there, I'm preparing hard, I'm doing my best right now. That's all I can worry about. I can't worry about what's happening with fans."

When Manning leads the Giants (5-6) into Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins (3-8) at FedEx Field, he won't have to concern himself with the fans as much as trying to gain some ground on the expectations many have set for him.

Part of it has to do with Manning's last name. After all, he comes from a family that boasts his father Archie, a star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, and older brother Peyton, last year's co-Most Valuable Player with the Indianapolis Colts.

And one of the benefits of being selected with the No. 1 overall pick was that Eli Manning signed a six-year contract worth up to $54 million - the richest rookie contract in NFL history.

But Manning's career began slowly as he was outplayed by Kurt Warner during the preseason and spent the first nine games of the season as New York's No. 2 quarterback. Coach Tom Coughlin finally made Manning the starter during Week 11 against the Atlanta Falcons.

Although Manning was OK against Atlanta (17-for-37 for 162 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a 45.1 passer rating), he struggled mightily against the Eagles, who harassed the rookie into 6-for-21 passing for 148 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions and a 16.9 rating.

"It's never easy, especially at the beginning of your career," Manning said. "It's a learning experience. The more games you get into, the more weeks of practice you get with the offense and get to play and get your timing with the receivers, the better things will get."

Coughlin, who was critical of Manning's play last Sunday, did not budge when asked if making Manning the starter this season was the right move.

"I have great confidence in Eli. Otherwise, I wouldn't have made the move that I did," Coughlin said. "He's got to play. He's got to have these experiences."

Sunday's experience will match Manning against a Redskins defense that is ranked second in the league in total yards allowed. But Washington defensive coordinator Greg Blache said the unit won't stray from its usual strategy in an obvious attempt to rattle Manning.

"You don't change your game plan because this guy is a rookie quarterback," Blache said. "This guy is exceptional, anyway, because he's got a lot of poise and moxie for a young guy."

Manning said his father and brother continue to offer encouragement. Peyton Manning, who is on pace to shatter Dan Marino's single-season record of 48 touchdowns, threw 28 interceptions as a rookie starter and went 3-13 with the Colts in 1998.

"I watched Peyton go through his rookie season, and he struggled," Eli Manning said. "He had some good games, but he made some mistakes. ... Having two people that have gone through the same situation and had tough times, having their support with everything has helped out."

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