BEREA: It used to be relatively easy to cast Eli Manning in the role of the overshadowed brother who had the tough task of following in big brother Peyton Manning’s footsteps in the NFL.
But two Super Bowl championships have altered the lens through which the youngest Manning — the first selection in the 2004 NFL Draft — is now viewed.
If Manning’s first Super Bowl ring in 2008 didn’t lay the foundation for his case to join the ranks as one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, then his second title last season should have done the trick.
“Last year, that’s where he really took his team on his back and performed so many outstanding finishes,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
Titles aside, Manning’s ability to lead game-winning drives is what has cemented his place among the game’s best quarterbacks. Now 31 and in his ninth season, Manning doesn’t melt under pressure when a score is needed late in the fourth quarter.
“In his mind, he knows he can lead his team to victory,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “And when he steps in the huddle, the other guys believe it and find a way to get it done.”
Manning entered this season with 20 game-winning drives in the regular season and five more in the playoffs.
“He’s very mature,” Browns veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown said. “He doesn’t seem to be panicked at all. Two-minute drives at the end of games? He’s calm, cool and collected. You can probably argue that he’s right up there with [Green Bay Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers because he’s pulled out a lot of victories in the end.”
Being a fourth-quarter Superman isn’t necessarily a role Manning relishes.
“You don’t always want to be down in the fourth quarter,” he said. “But if we get in those situations, we’re positive we can move the ball and put our team in a situation to win the game.”
Although the Giants are 2-2, Manning has already thrown for 1,320 yards (second most in the NFL) with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s on a streak of 23 consecutive games with at least 200 passing yards (a run that ranks second in NFL history) and has started 123 consecutive games, a league high for a quarterback.
“He’s got a tremendous grasp of their offense,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “He throws a nice ball in the face of pressure, standing there to deliver it, and deliver it accurately. We’ve seen him do it time and again on video.”
Manning’s maturity was a relatively quick process as a professional.
“His first two years, the game was fast and he was learning,” Brown said. “I don’t think the guys really trusted him yet. But right now, those guys are in heaven. They wouldn’t choose another guy to go to play with.”
Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said Manning’s ability to read defensive coverages is a big part of why he’s so effective.
“He knows where blitzes are coming from and adapts to that really quickly,” Fujita said. “This is a guy who sees things so clearly, a lot like his brother. I’ve played against both these guys many times throughout my career and they just see the big picture so well. So it’s tough to disguise coverages, to roll things one way or the other, because he knows what’s coming.”
It isn’t just Browns defenders who praised Manning heading up to the game. Even rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden admits to being a fan.
“I know Eli from going to the Manning camp the last few summers,” Weeden said. “Just sitting in the room with him and Peyton, I was like a sponge. I don’t think I blinked one time.
“He’s an elite quarterback, one of the guys I enjoy watching. I never had a [favorite] team, but watching quarterbacks is something I’ve always done and [Eli is] one of the guys that I’ve watched.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.