April 24, 2014

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Book on Eli: Giants QB is clutch performer Browns must contain

Eli Manning is a finisher. And the NFL is all about finishing.

While the Browns annually lament close calls and near-misses, the Giants have hoisted two Super Bowl trophies in the last five seasons. Manning is the biggest reason and can point to his pair of Super Bowl MVPs as proof.

In the historic upset of the unbeaten Patriots following the 2007 season, Manning led the winning touchdown drive in the final minutes. His completions to David Tyree (the Great Escape followed by the Helmet Houdini) and Plaxico Burress (the in-and-out for the touchdown) instantly became part of NFL lore.

To validate the championship and cement his legacy — not to mention surpass his more famous older brother in the ring department — Manning beat the Patriots again in February with another fourth-quarter drive.

“Eli’s a product of his great desire to be the best he can be, of his work ethic, which is as good or better than anyone I’ve ever been around in the game,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “His preparation is great, his work with receivers is outstanding and his coolness under fire is really what separates him and puts him in the position that he’s grown to accomplish.

“It’s never-ending. He really never sits back and is reflective. He’s always moving forward.”

Manning’s ascent hasn’t stopped in 2012. He threw for 510 yards in a comeback win over Tampa Bay and reached 200 yards for the 23rd straight game last week, surpassing New Orleans’ Drew Brees for the second-longest streak in history. San Diego’s Dan Fouts had 45 in a row in the early 1980s.

Manning’s 1,320 yards are second in the NFL to Brees’ 1,350, and he’s 23-5 in October.

“He’s very mature,” Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown said. “He doesn’t seem to be panicked at all. In 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 Aaron Rodgers. Let’s be honest, he’s pulled out a lot of victories in the end.”

Manning removed any doubt about his elite status in 2011. Even before the Super Bowl, he led six comeback victories in the fourth quarter.

“You want people believing, and we talk about that a lot,” Coughlin said. “No matter what the circumstances are, you want everyone to believe it’s going to happen.

“He’s done it really since (the 2008 Super Bowl). From that comes a confidence that everyone has in his ability and certainly in our ability to finish. Finish is a big theme for us, it’s a constant. We talk about it all the time. By virtue of the way he’s played, he’s gotten his teammates to believe.”

That’s why the Giants were so stunned and disappointed with a 19-17 loss to the Eagles on Sunday night. Manning had the ball in Eagles territory but had to settle for a 54-yard field-goal attempt that came up short. He got greedy, throwing deep when he only needed another first down to make the kick more manageable.

“Last year, he really took his team on his back and performed so many outstanding finishes,” Coughlin said of Manning. “That’s what’s so disappointing about the other night. That made it double- and triple-hurt the other night.”

Nobody’s perfect, and one Week 4 loss can’t blemish the resume Manning’s compiled in nine seasons.

After a rocky start to his career filled with turnovers, boos and big-game losses, Manning has emerged on the other side no worse for the wear. He’s the unflappable winner who can make all the throws, stand strong in the pocket and survive the pressure cooker of New York.

Manning is 71-52 in the regular season and 8-3 in the postseason. His 130 straight starts is the longest active streak by a quarterback.

“His first two years, the game was fast and he was learning,” Brown said. “I don’t think the guys really trusted him yet. Obviously that’s normal. But right now those guys are in heaven, they wouldn’t choose another guy to go to play with.”

Browns coach Pat Shurmur saw plenty of Manning during his decade as an assistant in Philadelphia.

“He’s pretty resilient,” Shurmur said. “He must have a way where he shuts out what people think and he just goes and plays.”

Manning’s most impressive feat may be escaping the America-sized shadow cast by older brother Peyton. Eli has established his own personality, posted a superior playoff record and held his own as host of “Saturday Night Live.” It’s no longer a slam dunk that Peyton will finish with the better career.

“He’s got two Super Bowls,” Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said of Eli. “He’s a guy that’s had a lot of success. He’s had to follow his big brother’s footsteps his whole career, but the guy’s a heckuva player. He’s an elite quarterback.”

Eli has been answering questions about his brother since he first stepped on a football field.

“I always thought being compared or mentioned in the same category as Peyton was always a great compliment and still is,” Eli said. “I had to just work on becoming a better player and getting to that level.

“I’m not trying to be better than Peyton. I’m trying to be the best quarterback I can be and trying to win games for the Giants.”

Manning will be at a disadvantage today without No. 1 wideout Hakeem Nicks and backup receiver Ramses Barden. The Browns hope to duplicate the Giants’ recipe for success by getting pressure with their front four and forcing Manning into mistakes. He’s been known to throw a few interceptions — he had 25 in 2010 and the Giants are 39-43 when he throws at least one — and the Giants have played some clunkers at home against weaker opponents.

“We’ve played some good quarterbacks, but I think we’ve held our own against all of them,” safety T.J. Ward said. “Eli’s another good quarterback. If we play our defense and play the way we’re supposed to play and the way we can play and expect to play — no quarterback is perfect.

“They all throw interceptions. They all make bad passes. Everyone is vulnerable. We’re just trying to capitalize on that.”

The plan is sound. But the Browns know that if Manning has a chance in the fourth quarter, odds are good he’ll come through.

He’s a finisher.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

TODAY

• WHO: Cleveland vs. New York Giants
• TIME: 1 p.m.
• WHERE: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WMMS 100.7-FM, WTAM 1100-AM

JUST THE FACTS

• RECORDS: Browns 0-4; Giants 2-2
• LAST WEEK: Browns lost 23-16 at Baltimore; Giants lost 19-17 at Philadelphia
• SERIES: Browns lead 27-20-2, including 1-1 in playoffs
• SERIES IN NEW YORK: Browns lead 12-9-2
• LAST MEETING: Browns won 35-14 on Oct. 13, 2008, in Cleveland
• COACHES: Pat Shurmur is 4-16 with Browns and overall; Tom Coughlin is 84-59 with Giants and 156-123 overall
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19, with Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf; WMMS-FM 100.7, WTAM 1100-AM
• NFL RANKINGS: Browns — offense 25th (27th rushing, 20th passing), defense 25th (19th rushing, 28th passing); Giants — offense 7th (23rd rushing, 2nd passing), defense 22nd (21st rushing, 19th passing)
• BROWNS UPDATE: K Phil Dawson last week became the first player in NFL history to make three 50-yard field goals in a half. He joined six others to have done it in a game. He connected from 50, 51 and 52 yards.
• The Browns have never played at MetLife Stadium.
• QB Brandon Weeden threw for 320 yards vs. the Ravens, becoming the first Browns rookie with multiple 300-yard games.
• After four sacks against Baltimore, the Browns are tied for fifth in the NFL with 13.
• Cleveland is tied for third in the league with six interceptions.
• Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron held the same position under Coughlin with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-98.
• WR/KR Joshua Cribbs is sixth in the NFL with a 28.4-yard kickoff return average.
• Senior defensive assistant Ray Rhodes was drafted by the Giants in the 10th round in 1974. He played receiver from 1974-76 and defensive back from 1977-80.
• LB D’Qwell Jackson is the only player in the NFL with at least two sacks and two INTs. He has three sacks and two INTs.
• The Browns had the youngest opening-day starting lineup in the NFL since 2000, averaging 24.86 years.
• DT Ahtyba Rubin, a game captain, leads all NFL defensive linemen with 180 tackles since 2010.
• GIANTS UPDATE: New York is tied with Dallas and Washington, a game behind first-place Philadelphia in the NFC East.
• New York is 1-1 at home this season and went 5-4 in the regular season last year. MetLife Stadium opened in 2010.
• Coughlin is 8-3 against the Browns.
• WR Domenik Hixon, who went to the University of Akron, tied a career high with six catches and set a personal best with 114 yards last week.
• KR David Wilson averaged 36.2 yards on six kickoff returns vs. the Eagles, including a 53-yarder. The
217 yards were third in Giants history. Wilson ranks fourth in the NFL with a 30.2-yard season average.
• K Lawrence Tynes has made a franchise-record 168 straight extra points. The last miss came in 2007.
• The Giants have three players whose jerseys were among the top 25 sellers on NFLshop.com from April 1 through Sept. 30. QB Eli Manning ranked fifth, WR Victor Cruz ninth and DE Jason Pierre-Paul 25th. TE Martellus Bennett leads the team with three receiving TDs.
• LB Chase Blackburn went to Akron.
• BROWNS INJURY REPORT: Out: WR Travis Benjamin (hamstring), S Tashaun Gipson (knee), WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring), TE Alex Smith (concussion); Questionable: S T.J. Ward (hand); Probable: WR Joshua Cribbs (concussion), RB Trent Richardson (not injury related), DE Frostee Rucker (shoulder), S Bubba Ventrone (hand/calf), S Usama Young (knee)
• GIANTS INJURY REPORT: Out: WR Barden Ramses (concussion), DT Rocky Bernard (quadriceps), CB Jayron Hosley (hamstring), WR Hakeem Nicks (foot/knee), S Kenny Phillips (knee); Doubtful: T David Diehl (knee), LB Keith Rivers (hamstring); Questionable: LB Michael Boley (hip), S Antrel Rolle (knee), G Chris Snee (hip), CB Corey Webster (hand/hamstring); Probable: C David Baas (hand), CB Michael Coe (hamstring)

PETRAK’S PICK

I like the vibe around the Browns this week and feel they’re close to their first win, but beating the Super Bowl champs on the road is too much to ask.

• Giants 20, Browns 17