EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The fans, former players and the New York Giants got what they wanted with Eli Manning back as the starting quarterback Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. It was a feel-good move that drew fans to the stadium and earned Manning a well-deserved standing ovation as he came onto the field for the opening drive.
It was gratifying for a minute, if not a quarter. There weren't many more quality moments for the Giants and their fans the rest of the afternoon, unless they were enamored by Manning checkdowns to the running back.
Does anybody really need to see that over and over in the final three weeks of the season?
Manning and the Giants produced 10 points -- zero in the second half -- against a subpar Cowboys defense. They produced close to nothing in his previous two starts. After having witnessed that for the 12th time this season on Sunday, it should provide more than enough incentive to get rookie Davis Webb extended action over these final three weeks.
Beginning in two weeks versus the Arizona Cardinals would be ideal.
The way things are shaping up, it might not happen, even though there are still people in the Giants organization who believe Manning is either done or close to it as his 37th birthday approaches. He is 23rd in the NFL in QBR after finishing 27th last season.
Interim coach Steve Spagnuolo said Manning will remain the starter when the Giants host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Spagnuolo doesn’t “feel that changing” any time soon because he believes Manning gives the Giants the best chance to win. He also thought Manning played “really good football” in their 30-10 loss to the Cowboys. "Really good" must be code for not throwing the game away until late in the fourth quarter.
Spagnuolo may ultimately be right. It's almost inconsequential in this instance. There are long-term organizational issues that should take precedent.
The Giants (2-11) need to get Webb experience, to at least start his evaluation process like Manning did during the 2004 season. They can score 24 points or fewer with or without Manning in the lineup, and the two-time Super Bowl winner's relationship with the organization will need to be repaired regardless when a new coach and general manager are hired.
It was originally damaged when Manning had his streak of 210 consecutive starts end to get Geno Smith into the lineup against the Oakland Raiders. But now they’re back to Manning. For what? A farewell tour?
There is no point in keeping the struggling quarterback in a bad offense with minimal weapons as the starter while their third-round pick remains inactive. Yet this is how the Giants are moving forward in this mess of a season that has already cost coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese their jobs.
It’s hardly guaranteed that Webb will produce if he starts, but that is not the point. At least having him in the lineup would give the Giants (and their future coach and general manager) a peek at his potential. Something is better than nothing, which is a point co-owner John Mara made several weeks back before the organization backtracked to pander to its fan base. It will also start the clock on Webb's growth. There is a lot to gain by reading defenses, seeing blitzes and experiencing NFL game action.
The Giants gain nothing at this point by continuing to throw Manning into the fire. His inability to move and make plays on his own, combined with their protection issues off the edges, is a toxic mix. It has been for years.
The Giants offense is 31st in the NFL, averaging 15.3 points per game (only the Cleveland Browns are worse, at 15.2). They were 26th last season, at 19.4 points per game.
Based on Manning's impressive résumé and two Super Bowl wins, nobody wants to admit it, but Smith, with his mobility, is likely the Giants' best option if they really want to win right now.
But in this situation, at this point of the season, it should be more about looking at the young quarterback who is under contract past this season. Webb is likely part of the Giants' future in some capacity. Smith is not.
It wasn't that long ago (less than two weeks, actually) that ownership was on board with the plan to get Webb playing time ... until they weren’t.
“I will tell you that Davis should play at some point and when that is -- I don’t like to interfere with those things -- I’d like the coach to make that decision. But, I think he knows what our feeling is,” Mara said after Manning was benched for Smith and before McAdoo was fired.
The only thing that should’ve changed now is the coach, not the organization’s desire to take a protracted look at Webb late in this season.
Webb, 22, should be ready, even if he hasn’t been active for a game. He’s had eight months to learn the Giants’ system. He’s had 13 regular-season games to sit and watch Manning and Smith prepare to start. Any longer and he would've turned into Ryan Nassib, the fourth-round pick who rotted behind Manning and was gone before starting a game for the Giants.
The son of a coach who is among the first to arrive in the morning (along with Manning) and last to leave, Webb was on the verge of seeing his workload and playing time increase before McAdoo was fired. McAdoo had a plan in motion that would’ve had Webb ready to start either this week or next.
Now, it’s up to ownership to make sure it happens. There is little incentive for Spagnuolo or offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan to turn to the rookie over Manning, the veteran they have a long-standing relationship with, dating back to their time working under Tom Coughlin.
Spagnuolo and Sullivan are coaching for their jobs, and wins matter more to them than they do the Giants.
Ownership will likely have to make the call to the bullpen for Webb.
“I would certainly respect that, obviously,” Spagnuolo said of playing younger players if asked. “I think we all would do that. Authority is authority. But, that hasn’t happened yet. But, I would certainly respect that. That’s our job as people that work for the organization.”
It's not happening this week. They have two more weeks to get it right.