EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Eli Manning has had two bad games in a row, and his last one in Green Bay was particularly awful. But his numbers in those games haven't gotten nearly as much attention as another number he can't do anything about.
Yes, Manning is 35 years old. And yes he is late in his NFL career. And yes, at some point, time will win and he will start an inevitable decline.
But no, it's not happening yet. And it's a little ridiculous to suggest that it is.
"Listen man, that's just … whoever says that and goes with a stereotypical, let-me-pull-this-out, idioms of the world, that's just easy," said Giants running back Rashad Jennings. "If you really study the game and know how the game operates, you understand that the quarterback position especially is a team.
"So that's just an immature statement. And no, he's not on the decline at all."
Jennings is right. The argument or worry that Manning is now on the slippery slope toward retirement because of his recent struggles is easy, lazy and not at all based in fact. It completely ignores that he was pretty good in the first three games of the Giants' season, and his numbers from those might be close to spectacular if it weren't for a maddening series of penalties, turnovers and end zone drops.
And the last two games? They were far from his best. Two weeks ago in Minnesota Manning looked … well, "skittish" as he was once famously called by GM Jerry Reese nearly a decade ago. Clearly the strategy in that game was for him to bail out of plays when the pass rush got in his face, as it did far too often. No doubt there were times when he bailed out long before the rush was there.
That problem only looked worse on Sunday night in Green Bay when he looked like he rushed every throw and was very off target. He completed just 51.4 percent of his passes for 199 yards. And the numbers wouldn't have been nearly that attractive if he hadn't gone 7-for-9 for 58 yards on his late-fourth-quarter, garbage-time touchdown drive.
Can Manning play better? Sure. Even he admitted that. "I need to play better," he said. "I have to make some more throws, better decisions, can't turn the ball over."
But is a two-game slump really a sign that end of his era is near? That sounds a little premature.
"We understand he's still playing in great form," said receiver Victor Cruz. "You can't just go off a couple of games and negate what he's done in the game that we've won and the good things he's done. Obviously it's easy to harp on the negative things but you have to look at the positive things as well.
"So yeah, no one's panicking about his performance. No one's hitting the panic button on Eli Manning."
Nor should they. Three games ago he threw for 350 yards against the Redskins and completed more than 65 percent of his passes. Granted, he threw two interceptions and at least one sure looked like it was all his fault. But that was also the game where his team committed 11 penalties and his starting center got thrown out.
In the last two games, the penalties have continued. So have the drops. And the offensive line has very clearly gotten worse. Whatever the game plan has been it's been impossible to execute because the pressure leaking through has forced Manning to rush.
His teammates are very clear about that. None of them are down on Manning. They're down on themselves for not giving him more help.
"Eli's a tremendous quarterback," Jennings said. "He understands the position. A lot of times the successes or failures for most critics go to the quarterback. But our quarterback ratings and stats are collectively a team stat. So we have to play better. It's not all on one person, especially Eli."
Now, in the last two games, Manning has completed just 53.8 percent of his passes (43-of-80) for 460 yards, one touchdown and one interception. That's a poor passer rating of 69.8, and no matter what you think of that stat, it's not good. You know when the last time was that he was that bad in two straight games? It was early last season in a loss at Philly in mid-October followed by a win over Dallas. His passer rating in those two games was a combined 67.8.
And you know what happened the next week? He threw for 350 yards and six touchdowns in a loss at New Orleans.
This is Eli Manning and it always has been. The arrow isn't always pointed up and it's not always pointed down. He can dazzle the world with great games that make him look like an "elite" quarterback, then he follows it up with a clunker or two before becoming "elite" again.
Just because he's 35 doesn't change that. Just because he's 35 doesn't mean he's in a slump that will never end.
"Everyone ages differently so you never know how it affects different guys," Cruz said. "Hopefully it doesn't happen to him. I hope he plays until he's 55. But we'll see how it goes. He knows. He knows his body better than anyone. When he knows and when the time comes I'm sure he'll handle it accordingly.
"I'm convinced he's playing 'til 55 years old. At least in my mind."
Maybe he could. And maybe he could be "elite" for at least a few more years if his teammates around him would play a little bit better. But it's easier to say he's declining or done. It's not analysis. It's a cliché.
It's also not true. Manning has had plenty of mini-declines before and he's always bounced back strongly. He's not so old now for anyone to believe that it can't possibly happen again.