Steve Spagnuolo made it clear in the aftermath of the latest Giants loss: Eli Manning will continue to start at quarterback “until something crazy happens.” And what crazy thing could possibly happen here?
You know, like the team matching its worst start in 43 years, and Manning getting benched for Jets reject Geno Smith, and dozens of former players joining the fans in a total revolt against the team, and the head coach and general manager getting fired in the aftermath, and Manning getting his starting job back only to have the offense look barely functional again in a 30-10 loss to the hated Dallas Cowboys?
As Jack Nicholson once said in As Good As It Gets: “Sell crazy someplace else. We’re all stocked up here.”
The Giants lead the NFL in crazy, and if Spagnuolo doesn’t reconsider, they’ll be going for the league record. Because there is no reason for Manning to keep starting for this 2-11 team now other than sentimentality and because the team doesn’t want to deal with the blowback.
You can make a case that starting him on Sunday was the right decision. The team had gone through so much upheaval in the previous few days, and it was clear that giving Smith or rookie Davis Webb the assignment would have led to even more fury from the paying customers.
So Manning started again — the 211th time in 212 games, as a helpful TV graphic noted — and received a nice 10-second ovation when he trotted onto the field for the first time. He heard chants of “EEE-LI MANN-ING!” after throwing his first touchdown pass in a month, a one-yard pass to Rhett Ellison in the second quarter.
“That’s where you want to be. That’s where I want to be,” Manning said when asked about the reaction. “I want to be there with my teammates and try to get a win, be there for the fans and do my part. Hopefully, the coaches believe I give us the best chance to get a win at quarterback.”
But those fans were mostly gone when Manning, who completed 31 of 46 passes for 228 yards with two interceptions, finished the game. And it was hard not to wonder what in the world he was doing out there in those final two minutes, with the Giants down by 20 points and absolutely nothing to play for other than draft position.
It was dumb, and starting Manning when the Eagles come to MetLife Stadium next week would be dumber. Spagnuolo, a good guy in a tough spot as interim head coach, needs to at least have Webb active for that game so he can get some garbage-time snaps.
“I don’t know. I’m not going to comment on that right now,” Spagnuolo said when asked about his quarterbacks. “(Starting Manning) would be my gut feeling, but — look, without looking at it or evaluating it, Eli Manning is the quarterback right now.”
This is worth stating again: It was the execution of Manning’s benching, the ridiculous “plan” for him to play one half and the insensitive handling by Ben McAdoo, that was the problem. The decision itself to give the younger quarterbacks a chance was and remains the right move for an organization that needs information.
That’s what playing Webb would provide. He is, as many of Manning’s backers point out, almost certainly going to face the same issues that the 14-year veteran dealt with again on Sunday. The littany of offensive problems — dropped passes, poor route running, no rushing attack, etc. — are not going away not matter who starts for this team.
But, with the 49ers losing on Sunday, the Giants have the inside track to the second overall pick. Whoever makes that decision needs information on the current quarterbacks, and even a glimpse at Webb under difficult circumstances is better than nothing.
“I appreciate all the support the fans have given me for 14 years and these last weeks especially,” Manning said on Sunday. “I appreciate them coming out today and cheering me on and cheering on the Giants.”
Manning handled his brief demotion with class, and he’ll do it again if/when the Giants finally give Webb a chance. His ironman streak is history and the team is going nowhere. The much-feared fan revolt was averted with this start against the Cowboys.
Spagnuolo said it would take “something crazy” for Manning to head back to the bench, but what would truly be crazy in this lost season is not giving the rookie a chance to play.