Eli era begins for Giants against Vick, Falcons

Posted: Sunday, November 21, 2004

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. A day after being tabbed to start for the New York Giants, Eli Manning got some simple advice from the NFL's best QB, his brother Peyton:

If the Giants' offense is introduced before Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, don't trip running on to the field.

Eli Manning might find it hard avoiding a slip in taking over the struggling Giants (5-4) from two-time MVP Kurt Warner. Great things are expected from the well-bred son of NFL great Archie Manning and the younger brother of the league's co-MVP.

Not only was Manning the No. 1 pick in the draft, but the Giants mortgaged their future to get him, giving San Diego the rights to quarterback Philip Rivers, the No. 4 pick overall, and three other draft picks, including a No. 1 choice next year.

Manning's immediate job is to stop a playoff-threatening skid that has seen New York lose two games in a row and three of four. That is going to be a major task with the Falcons (7-2), Philadelphia (8-1), Washington (3-6), Baltimore (6-3) and Pittsburgh (8-1) on tap over the next five weeks.

''You can't worry about the pressure or what people expect from you,'' said Eli Manning, who saw very limited action in two games this season. ''You've got to go out and play the game the way you're supposed to.

''You can't try to do anything special or make big plays, you've got to look for the opportunities to make plays and when they're there, make them.''

Falcons quarterback Michael Vick knows the pressure Manning will be under. Atlanta also made a draft-day deal with San Diego for the No. 1 overall spot in 2001, then gave Vick the job of turning around the franchise.

Vick, who can beat teams with his passing or running, has led Atlanta to the playoffs once in three seasons. When the Falcons have won, he's gotten the credit. He's also taken the blame when things haven't worked out.

''We all know New York is a tough market, and they're very critical,'' Vick said. ''It's just something that he (Manning) has to deal with. It's either going to make him a better person and a better player or ... he just has to roll with the punches.''

Vick recalled being nervous for his first start, in November of his rookie year.

''I really didn't know what to expect, but at the same time I was excited,'' Vick said. ''I knew it was the start of my career, so there really wasn't any pressure on me at the time. I just wanted to go out and show the world that I could play in the NFL.''

Atlanta beat Dallas 20-13, starting a three-game winning streak.

The Giants believe Manning can provide the same type of spark. However, he is going to need the help that Warner did not get in recent weeks.

In the past four games, Warner was sacked 24 times and hit consistently. Penalties on offense also put the team in unmanageable down-and-distance situations, while turnovers were directly responsible for losses to Detroit and Chicago.

While the Falcons aren't a big blitz team, expect them to bring some heat to accompany the big push they get up front from tackle Rod Coleman (six sacks) and end Patrick Kerney (eight sacks).

''We have to protect him and give him opportunities, because the only way you stop pressure is to burn them and make some big plays,'' Giants halfback Tiki Barber said. ''Eli can do that, and I think we have receivers that can do that.''

Falcons coach Jim Mora is more concerned with how to deal with Barber, tight end Jeremy Shockey and receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard than Manning.

''What we have to do defensively is prepare for schemes and concepts and formations and plays more so than Eli Manning and his personal tendencies,'' Mora said.

The Giants' biggest defensive concern will be slowing Vick, who missed games against New York the past two years because of injury.

Oddly, the Falcons won without him, using unheralded backups Doug Johnson and Kurt Kittner.

With Vick going against Manning this weekend, the game will have even more hype in the media capital of the world.

''I'm blocking all that out,'' Vick said. ''The biggest thing is going up there and getting win No. 8. They can say all the hoopla and say whatever they want. It doesn't matter. We're there to win a football game. Yeah, it's the Big Apple and it's going to be a big-time show, but we're there to win a football game.''

Vick has completed 110 of 190 passes for 1,537 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. He also has a team-high 536 yards rushing and one TD.

''He looks at times like he just takes over some games,'' Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. ''When he does that with his effectiveness as a runner in the open field, obviously he is at his very best.''

Manning does not have that ability. He is a classic pocket passer who rarely runs. But when he is on, he has the potential to put up numbers like his brother.

The two talked Tuesday, but Peyton didn't offer any real advice for the game.

''It's a time to call and say good luck, especially with the five defenses he's about to face,'' the Indianapolis Colts star said. ''I'm proud of Eli and the way he's handled everything all season, and I'm looking forward to watching him play and wish him the best of luck. No great advice from me. I'm just looking forward to watching him play.''

So is most of New York.



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