EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The anger directed at the Giants has been fierce and swift, and maybe a little more than what John Mara expected. There is a belief that the franchise bungled the benching of their franchise quarterback and mistreated Eli Manning along the way.
Mara, speaking for the first time about the situation on Wednesday, said he feels the pain of Giants fans everywhere - especially since the switch from Manning to his possible heir apparents didn't go exactly according to his original plan.
"I understand they feel that way," Mara said. "I've been around long enough to know that when you get to a decision like this there's no completely clean way to handle it. (But) it was not the way we hoped it would turn out."
What Mara hoped would happen is that Manning would continue along as the Giants' starter with Geno Smith and Davis Webb getting some playing time late in games down the stretch so the team could evaluate their potential. But the plan went awry when Mara's vision was apparently not communicated clearly by Giants coach Ben McAdoo to Manning, which led Manning to shoot it down, creating a mess the Giants had hoped to avoid.
Here's how it all unfurled, according to Mara: He said "a week or two ago" he approached GM Jerry Reese and said "Don't you think it's time we get a look at these other quarterbacks at some point during games?" By then, Reese had already had that conversation with McAdoo. After the Giants were officially eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday, Reese and McAdoo decided to make their move.
McAdoo apparently told Manning that he would be allowed to start every game down the stretch, with Smith or Webb playing in the second half. Manning recognized that was a ridiculous an impractical idea and Mara said the quarterback told McAdoo "You may as well just start him (because) it's not fair to him (and) it's not fair to me."
One problem, though: What McAdoo told Manning wasn't what Mara intended.
"I was hoping he'd come in, he'd play, he'd be playing well, we'd have a chance to win the game," Mara said, "and maybe he'd stay in there or something.
"I didn't necessarily think it had to be at the half (when Manning came out)," Mara said. "I think if he's playing well in the first half or winning the game, it looks like he has a chance, the offense is clicking, I would argue keep him in the game. Having him definitely come out at the end of the first half, I can understand why he would object to that."
So did McAdoo mess this up by relaying a bad message? Could all this have been avoided if McAdoo had been a little clearer about the plan?
"Well, it was presented the way Ben thought it ought to be presented," Mara said. "Could we have done it differently? I guess you could argue that we could have. The point was we did not want him on the bench. We wanted him to start the game and play some portion of the game, and at some point work the other guys in."
That, of course, leaves many unanswered questions, such as: Did McAdoo misrepresent Mara's plan, or did he just have a different plan in mind? And why didn't Mara step in and clarify the situation? McAdoo met with Manning on Monday, and by Monday afternoon Mara knew Manning wasn't on board with the plan. Mara was out of town at the NFL owners meetings, so he was communicating with Manning by text, unable to meet him in person until Wednesday morning - the day after the decision was announced.
But he certainly could have called Manning and cleared things up.
Why didn't he? One reason might be that Mara knows his plan probably wouldn't have worked the way he really wanted. Because if this is truly about getting an evaluation of Smith and Webb before the Giants decide whether to draft a quarterback in April, they'd need more than just a few meaningless snaps at the end of an already lost game.
"I would not have been in favor of just playing a series or something like that," Mara said. "He's got to play a meaningful part of the game.
"If we're going to get a look at these quarterbacks we have five games left to do that and we'd like to get them some meaningful minutes too, not just in a mop-up role with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter."
Fair enough. But even if that was the intention, this clearly was not handled well by McAdoo - either in his private conversation with Manning, or his press conference announcing the decision on Tuesday afternoon. McAdoo came off as very cold, very matter-of-fact as he deposed a franchise icon.
It might have helped smooth things over with everyone if he had shown a little more compassion and handled things a little more delicately than he did.
"I suppose he could've," Mara said. "I don't think that's necessarily his strength. But again, at the end of the day, does it really make any difference? The fact of the matter is it's a major decision for this franchise and with a beloved figure. People are not going to like it."
They don't. And, to be honest, Mara doesn't really like the way it happened either.
"I didn't want him to go out like this," Mara said. "But I understand his feeling. I respect his decision. He doesn't want his streak to be tarnished by just getting in for a few series. But he understands that at some point we have to look at the other quarterbacks because he's not going to play forever."