Sportswriters were ready to print the coronation of Robert Griffin III this past Sunday. His picture-perfect pass to Santana Moss with 1:38 remaining in the fourth quarter gave the Washington Redskins a 23-20 lead over the favored New York Giants.
The young phenom was set to dominate the headlines after Week 7, and just one play from scrimmage later, Eli Manning made every writer in the world press delete.
It is inconceivable how Manning has not yet been officially diagnosed with amnesia. No QB in the NFL is better at making the perfect pass just moments after making a reckless throw.
It is an attribute that has become synonymous with his greatness. In New York’s 27-23 victory over the Redskins, Manning once again put that indispensable characteristic on display.
Following RG3’s fumble on the Giants' 27-yard line, Manning inexplicably returned the favor by throwing it directly to linebacker Rob Jackson. New York was seconds away from falling for a third straight time to the Redskins, but when Manning took the field with 1:32 remaining on the clock, it was all but over.
If there was one mistake RG3 made in Sunday’s game, it was leaving too much time on the clock for Manning to work with.
Heading into the game’s final minutes, Manning had thrown six interceptions and zero touchdowns in his last three games vs. Washington. Only Manning could dismiss those numbers as he took the field on the team’s final possession.
His 77-yard connection with Victor Cruz was the second-longest fourth-quarter touchdown pass of his career. It capped his eighth game-winning drive since 2011—the most in the NFL. It slammed the door on RG3’s coronation and opened up the possibility for an Eli Manning MVP campaign.
When surveying the landscape of the NFL, there are five legitimate candidates for NFL MVP: Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. But it is Eli who is the early favorite to win the award.
J.J. Watt (9.5 sacks with two fumble recoveries and 10 passes deflected) deserves consideration for MVP, but today’s NFL is a QB-driven league. As stellar as his performance has been, his position does not carry the same weight as Manning’s.
Matt Ryan (67.8 completion percentage for 1,756 yards and 14 TDs with six INTs) can lead the Falcons to an undefeated season, but the stigma associated with his inability to perform in the playoffs will haunt his MVP campaign. No one will buy him as a viable option until he removes the self-inflicted doubts created by his anemic performance the past three postseasons.
Peyton Manning (67.8 completion percentage for 1,808 yards and 14 TDs with four INTs) has been impressive since returning from his fourth neck surgery, but his performance would be more impressive if his first-half turnovers did not contribute to the 21-point deficit the Broncos face on a biweekly basis.
Aaron Rodgers (69.8 completion percentage for 1,979 yards and 19 TDs with four INTs) continues to redefine the QB position, but his Packers are 4-3 and find themselves in third place in the NFC North—behind Christian Ponder and the vaunted Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers will need to continue his impressive hot streak in the last two weeks (nine TDs with zero INTs) if he wants to win his second consecutive MVP.
There is still plenty of football to be played, but Eli’s performance in clutch moments this season separates him from the rest of the competition. He has a 64.8 completion percentage for 1,108 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions when the Giants are trailing this season.
His ability to be as cool as the other side of the pillow in the definitive moments of a game is the recurring nightmare that plagues Tom Brady's dreams.
New York is atop the NFC East at 5-2 and poised for another Super Bowl run, due in large part to Manning's ability to bring his team back in the fourth quarter. No lead is insurmountable when facing the Giants—something the Browns, Buccaneers and Redskins can attest to.
He continues to dominate in October and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN), his 26-5 record is the best October record for a quarterback since the 1970 merger.
It is time he receives the respect and acknowledgement he has earned.
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