Giants QB is Manning of the moment

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning is not going to be his big brother any more than Venus Williams is going to be her kid sister. Eli does not have Peyton's arm, or his vision, or his release, or his genius for seeing clarity in the secondary when everyone else sees an indecipherable maze.

But Eli does have his older sibling's toughness and poise, valuables he'll store in the overhead bin on the flight to Indy and Peyton's place.

Sunday, opening day in the new ballpark, Eli Manning had three tipped passes go down as three deflected interceptions, and all three could've or should've been caught by Giants receivers who didn't do their quarterback any favors in the box score.

Maybe a younger Eli would've let this maddening tip drill ruin a perfectly fine day. Maybe a younger Eli would've ended up all wet in this London mist, flustered by fate and a Panthers team that once embarrassed his team in the playoffs and again last season in that wretched Giants Stadium goodbye.

This 29-year-old Eli wasn't going down that Carolina road. He had the new Meadowlands stadium to christen, and a 2010 season to save before it had even started.

No, the New York Giants couldn't afford to lose to their old antagonists, not with the 0-1 Colts desperate to avoid their own 0-2 start next Sunday night, and not with last year's bad karma attached to Tom Coughlin's team like a towel to a wideout's hip.

Manning made certain it didn't happen. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 263 yards and threw three touchdown passes to Hakeem Nicks, one of the offending tipsters and a receiver who earned absolution for his not-so-venial sin.

"A historic first win" Tom Coughlin called the 31-18 victory, before he started his requisite moaning over the turnovers and the kicking game. When Coughlin got around to his quarterback, his disposition turned a shade brighter than the slate-gray sky. The head coach talked about Manning's confidence, and his ability to "stay focused and not let the last play determine the outcome of the next play."

Eli, Coughlin said, "knows football very well," and he proved it to the world with that epic Super Bowl triumph over football's evil empire in February 2008. In fact, Manning knows the game well enough to understand there's no greater plunge in the NFL than the one a team takes when it falls from the first-string quarterback to the second-string quarterback.

It's like falling from a bluff in the Grand Canyon, making Eli's ability to stay on the field his most profound talent. Manning has made 95 consecutive starts, postseason included, and bloodied, card-carrying tough guys such as Phil Simms and Y.A. Tittle never approached that franchise mark.

"I try to be a reliable guy you can count on," Manning said after his news conference, on his way out of the new building and into the second Manning Bowl week of his career.

"A lot of it is working out in the offseason, and being a fast healer on some things. I want to be out there with my teammates, and I think my teammates feel the same way about me. They want me out there to protect me and play well for me."

Protect me. Play well for me.

Yes, Manning has grown as a leader and expanded his voice.

"You work hard and do everything you can to stay healthy," he continued. "A lot of it is the offensive line and the receivers and the running backs doing their jobs, but you've got to have a commitment to be there for your team."

Manning didn't just fight through the interceptions; he lost his tight end, Kevin Boss, to another concussion in the first quarter, leaving him to find a Plaxico Burress somewhere, anywhere, among the Nickses and Mario Manninghams.

Nicks declared himself as the guy after Manning talked to him, told him to forget about the interception and, in effect, to get over himself.

"I feel like we're right where we need to be," Nicks said of his rapport with his quarterback, "but I know it's going to keep getting better and better each week."

To be determined. Meanwhile, half an hour after opening 1-0, Eli was forced to talk about Peyton. He had no choice. It's in his blood.

The Giants' quarterback mentioned all the fuss revolving around his first matchup with Peyton in 2006, a Colts victory, even allowing the words "Manning Bowl" to spill from his lips.

"I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I should have," Eli said. "I think this next time, you start to realize you don't know how many times it is going to happen. This might be the last one. You might get one more here or there. Obviously, we have to both make it to the Super Bowl for it to happen again in the next four years.

"It is rare and you kind of appreciate the fact that when the national anthem is being sung, you are kind of looking over and you see your big brother there and it is pretty special. You have to try to enjoy it, and just understand that it is something that you don't know how many times you are going to get to do."

Manning was asked if he'd ever talked to his big brother about a potential dream matchup in the Super Bowl.

"We have never talked about it," he said. "I don't know if we would want it. Obviously you want that opportunity to get to a Super Bowl. I really wouldn't like to play the Colts. I would like to be playing somebody not as good as them, and my parents would probably hate it."

The rest of America would love it. Peyton is regarded as the best in the game, maybe the best of all time, and he has won his own Super Bowl ring. Peyton also threw for 433 yards and three touchdowns in the Colts' opening loss to Houston, and ended his day with three fewer interceptions than Eli had.

But winning is everything, and the only thing, in the Manning household, and only one member of football's first quarterbacking family will show up in Indy on Sunday night with an unbeaten record in 2010.

Here's a hint: He didn't play his college ball at Tennessee.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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