Saturday, September 24, 2005

Eli Visits Chargers In Highly Anticipated Match-Up

Much has been made of Eli Manning's refusal to play for the team that drafted him in 2004, the San Diego Chargers. Originally selected number one overall, he forced a trade to the Giants for a monster package that included the Giants' fourth overall pick (Phillip Rivers) and several other picks. Before he even took a snap, the younger brother of Peyton signed a six-year incentive-laden deal that included a rookie record $20 million signing bonus.

In his debut season, replacing vet Kurt Warner halfway thru 2004, Manning struggled in nine games with six touchdowns and nine interceptions and a QB rating of 55.4. He won just one start, coming in the final game against Dallas on a last second audible by the University of Mississippi product, which Tiki Barber scored on.

While Manning and the Giants had problems finishing 6-10 in 2004, Drew Brees led San Diego to a surprising 12-4 record which included an AFC West Division Title. Brees tossed for a career best 3159 yards along with 27 TDs, 7 Ints and a remarkable 104.8 rating.

So far in 2005, it's been a different story. Though Manning hasn't been lights out in the Giants first two wins, he has three TDs and a rating of 76.3. In Monday night's 27-10 victory over New Orleans, Manning was 13-of-24 for 165 yards and one TD. Most importantly, the second-year QB didn't throw an interception after tossing two against Arizona in Week One. Something that wasn't lost on coach Tom Coughlin.

"Well, the opportunity to have a chance to play another in-season football game, to have studied and gained more knowledge about the next opponent, to have executed to a better degree," said Coughlin Wednesday. "To apply again the mental part of the game, which he did a very good job of – he managed the game very well. I just think it is going to keep getting better."

Meanwhile, Brees and the Chargers (0-2) lost by a combined seven points their first two games to Dallas and Denver. Brees has two TDs and already three Ints this year.

In a tough 21-18 loss to Denver last week on a last second Jason Elam field goal, All-Pro Ladainian Tomlinson rushed for two scores, establishing an NFL record with a rushing TD in 14 straight games. But for the game, he had only 19 carries for 52 yards and faces a Giants D that's allowed just 103 yards on the ground.

With Manning visiting what will be a hostile environment Sunday night in primetime at 8:30 ET/5:30 PT on ESPN at Qualcomm Stadium and the Bolts steaming from their first two losses, it should be quite a challenge.

"I think staying focused on what is going to happen on the field against a very, very good football team, a very dangerous football team, that is going to take about all of the energy he has got," Coughlin said. "Hopefully he won’t even know what is going on in the stands."

Manning holds no grudge towards San Diego or their supporters.

"I have nothing against San Diego or the people of San Diego or the players on the team or anything like that," Manning said Tuesday. "Before I made the decision, I had never even been to San Diego....Everything I have heard about San Diego is that it is beautiful and its great weather the whole time and as I was going through this decision, that's what everybody kept saying. So, it was just a matter of it didn't feel like the right place for me.''

The 24-year-old realizes that he can't focus on how the crowd receives him but rather the task at hand.

"I think as a quarterback you can’t be concerned about that," he said. "You have to go out there and keep your eyes down field, try to make throws when they are there and you can’t worry about when you are going to get hit....My focus has to be on getting completions and making good decisions."

Manning will have help from an offense that's scored 69 points. All-Pro Tiki Barber scored twice last week and rookie Brandon Jacobs ran for his second TD. So far, free agent pickup Plaxico Burress has been a target for Eli pacing the team with 10 receptions for 140 yards and one TD. Jeremey Shockey has seven catches and one score.

While the offense has plenty of weapons, Big Blue's D looks to shutdown Tomlinson and put a stranglehold on Antonio Gates. Gates caught 81 passes last year for 963 yards and 13 TDs enroute to his first Pro Bowl. He could be a tough assignment Sunday night.

Led by Michael Strahan, Carlos Emmons and Osi Umenyiora, the Giants will attempt to put heavy pressure on Brees.

Ultimately, all eyes are on Manning to see how he reacts.


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