Younger Manning is growing up fast

QB sparks Giants, eclipses brother in TDs

October 28, 2005|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

ASHBURN, Va. -- The NFL season is into its eighth week, and the Manning brother with more touchdowns and fewer interceptions is not Peyton.

Eli Manning has thrown more touchdown passes (12 to 11) and fewer interceptions (four to five) than his older brother, but when they connect for their twice-a-week phone conversations, Eli Manning said he doesn't offer much counsel to the league's two-time reigning Most Valuable Player.

"I haven't given him any advice," Manning said. "I think he knows everything already, and he understands that it's a team game. Teams are trying to stop their passing attack, and that's why Edgerrin James is one of the top rushing leaders in the league. They're 7-0, and I think he's happy with that."

Yet, the Manning on many people's lips is Eli, the 24-year-old quarterback of the New York Giants.

In just his second season, Manning has helped the Giants stage late-game comebacks in their past two games, including last week's 15-play, 83-yard drive that culminated in a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Amani Toomer with five seconds left for a 24-23 victory over the Denver Broncos.

The Giants are 4-2 and in a three-way tie with the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East.

Quarterback Mark Brunell, whose Redskins face New York on Sunday at Giants Stadium, said Manning is playing like the top overall pick of the 2004 draft.

"He's competitive, he's got a strong arm, he's smart, well-coached, and he's put together some nice games," Brunell said. "He obviously has a lot of talent, and he's showing this league and everybody that he has a real bright future."

Defensive end Renaldo Wynn was more blunt in his assessment of Manning's impact on the Giants. "He's the reason why they're 4-2 now," Wynn said. "For him to come in as a young quarterback and take the leadership role, he's done an excellent job."

A lot was expected of Manning when New York acquired him in a trade at the 2004 draft after the Mississippi alum balked at signing with the San Diego Chargers.

Manning started the final games of the 2004 season and finished with more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (six).

But in the team's final three games, he completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 527 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions. Manning said the turning point occurred in his fourth start, against a Ravens defense that left him with a 0.0 passer rating.

"I went in and talked to some of the coaches and said, `I'm struggling right now. We've got to change some things if I'm going to play better and give this team a chance to win,'" he recalled. "So we went back and put some plays in that I felt more comfortable in, that I was running during training camp. I had a good timing of it. I think that was helpful. ... It gave me some confidence."

That confidence has been on display this season. Manning has completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 1,414 yards and is the NFC's seventh-rated passer (88.7).

Manning has also benefited from the personnel around him. Six-foot-5 wide receiver Plaxico Burress, a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been Manning's favorite target as he leads the team in receptions (36), yards (535) and touchdowns (five).

Tight end Jeremy Shockey is healthy for the first time since his rookie year in 2002, Toomer has caught two touchdowns passes, and running back Tiki Barber is a dangerous dual threat.

"I'm still making mistakes and struggling at times, but I think I just have to keep going out there every week and continue to play hard and go out there and try to learn as much football as I can week to week," Manning said. "We have a lot of weapons on this team. We have to figure out the best way to use everybody and get everybody their balls because we have a lot of guys that can make plays."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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