Originally written on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 2/1/12

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 22: Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants looks to throw a pass against the Atlanta Falcons on November 22, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Ok I’ll admit to being one of the (many) people who laughed when Eli Manning said that he considered himself as a quarterback in the same class as the elites of the game. At the time you really had to admire the guy’s confidence in his ability but he had never really been able to shake the tag of “Peyton’s kid brother” and all the connotations that go with that label. Sure he had won a Super Bowl but so did Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson, guys who are always going to have to pay to go visit the Hall of Fame. That run in 2007 certainly entrenched Eli in Giants history but as late as week 15 of that season, there were widespread rumours that Eli and the entire coaching staff would be dismissed after another failed season. Since then though, you can’t help but admire the growth and maturity he has displayed despite the constant detractors and ridiculously high expectations that go along with the Manning family name. Now, as he prepares for his second Super Bowl appearance, it’s only fair to look back at his career so far, how he has grown and how a win or loss would affect his status.

After his win in Super Bowl XLII, most fans really had to give Manning credit for the way he played all throughout the playoffs and really managing to eliminate the critical mistakes from his game (something Packer fans wished Brett Favre would do on occasion). Once he had beaten those pesky, undefeated Patriots and sent most of New England into a depressed coma for the next week, the general consensus was that Eli had finally arrived on the big stage and was ready to take the next step and join big brother Peyton and Tom Brady in the elite echelon of NFL quarterbacks. He started off 2008 on a roll managing to lead the Giants to the NFC East title and top seed in the playoffs, of course that was about where the luck ran out as he struggled against the Eagles in the divisional round and the Giants were eliminated. Over the next two seasons Manning’s passing totals increased as he took on a bigger and bigger role in the Giants’ offense. However his wins per season began to fall back down to earth as he struggled with turnovers including 25 interceptions in 2010. This year though, he fell just short of passing for 5000 yards with some young, exciting targets emerging in Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham to give him a deadly combination on the outside. Manning was quoted as saying that at the age of 30, it’s still a little bit early to be considering his place among the all time greats and that is fair enough, so let’s evaluate how he stacks up against the quarterbacks currently in the league.

Right now I would say Eli is right on the bubble of becoming one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. Going into this season I would have said he is right on the precipice of making that jump from the top of the second tier of really good, solid quarterbacks who can win a game up to the true elite status joining Peyton, Brady, Rodgers, Brees and Roethlisberger as the best in the NFL. Just getting to the Super Bowl has elevated him to that status in my mind but if he wins, there would be little to argue about just how good he really is. Whether or not it had something to do with the fact that for the first time in his career, Peyton wasn’t busy kicking the crap out of opposing defenses every week, showing everyone how good a quarterback can be. Sure he still had to compete with Drew Brees breaking Dan Marino’s record, Aaron Rodgers treating defenses like his personal plaything at times but that seems to be the way Manning likes it. Let everyone else take the headlines and he will go out and do his job the best way he knows how to.

What’s impressed me most this year is the maturity Manning has shown all throughout the season, being able to respond to adversity no matter what. I heard Bert Breer sum it up best in a radio interview earlier where he said that in previous years, it was very easy to rattle Manning and let him feel like the game had slipped away from him, now though he acts like he is in complete control of the game and he is able to bounce back after a rough start. The most recent example came in San Francisco (with a little help from Kyle Williams) where he spent most of the day getting pounded by the 49ers defense. But he managed to keep himself under control and as a result he is now preparing for another run at a championship. Overall his season may not have been as good as Brady, Brees or Rodgers which means we won’t see him competing for MVP honours but what we have seen is a major growth in the maturity of Eli Manning this year as he has grown into one of the top quarterbacks in the league. It certainly will be interesting to see how he deals with the praise/blame that will come his way after the Super Bowl and the heightened expectations this appearance will bring but that is something for next year. Eli’s grown up and deserves plenty of praise for the progression he has made in the past 12 months.

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