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Eli is saving N.Y. football from itself

As much as he was beaten up last year for throwing 27 interceptions, Eli Manning was getting blitzed again in the early hours of this year when the West Coast offense, in his hands, did not exactly look like the West Coast offense in Joe Montana's.

And yet, even before he managed four interceptions in the two losses that opened the regular season, Manning interrupted a dreadful preseason to tell his old man he should ignore all those commentators and fans wondering if the New York Giants' first-string offense would ever score double figures in a meaningful game.

"I didn't ask, 'What's wrong with the new offense?' or anything like that," Archie Manning said Thursday by phone, "but Eli probably knew what I was thinking. He just said, 'We're going to be all right.' Everyone was getting on Eli in the preseason and he assured me, 'We're going to get through this. We're getting it in practice. We're going to conquer this thing.'"

Eli Manning hasn't conquered Ben McAdoo's version of the West Coast offense, not yet anyway. But with the unraveling Jets favored to fall again Sunday to the older Manning, Peyton, and with the Giants carrying a three-game winning streak into Philly for a shot at the first-place Eagles, Eli's early command of the new system is the reason football season in New York didn't retire right behind Derek Jeter.

Manning has eight touchdown passes against one interception and a 115.2 quarterback rating over the past three weeks, and his career-high completion rate for the season (66.3 percent) is within striking distance of the 70 percent goal established by his new quarterbacks coach, Danny Langsdorf. Of course, father knew best on this one. Archie Manning told ESPNNewYork.com on the first day of the Giants' winning streak that Eli would help Ben become the highest scoring McAdoo in these parts since Bob.

"Eli likes this offense," he said then. "This is going to be good for him."

Reminded Thursday of his prediction, Archie Manning wanted it made clear he has great respect for deposed offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and a lasting appreciation for Gilbride's help in shaping Eli into a two-time Super Bowl MVP.

"I don't stick my nose in anything; I've never been to a Giants practice," Archie said. "I don't watch film with Eli or talk X's and O's with him, and you can't be critical of the run he had with Kevin. There was going to be change with Kevin leaving, and [McAdoo's] is a pretty heavy-duty, complex offense that puts a lot of burden on the quarterback. There are a lot of decisions and reads he has to make, and Eli has handled it.

"I didn't know much about Ben in Green Bay; I knew [Packers coach] Mike McCarthy well and knew he was one of the top offensive guys in the business. I thought the West Coast offense would be a good change for Eli for the rest of his career. He's in his 11th year now, and this allows him to get rid of the ball quicker. I just thought the different philosophy on the intermediate stuff would be good for him."

If Archie Manning wasn't about to say it, Eli's intelligence -- sometimes lost behind the aw-shucks act -- might be an underrated part of his skill set. As the family story goes, Peyton was the brother blessed with the computer chip for a brain, while Eli has relied more on opportunistic timing and a talent for remaining calm.

Yet, after 10 seasons of throwing long, the kid brother has adapted to the small-ball approach faster than most observers figured he would. Eli will turn 34 before the playoffs start. If he wanted to extend his career and his streak of 167 consecutive starts, postseason included, Manning had little choice but to embrace a system that put more stress on his mind than his body.

"Quarterbacks have to learn to get rid of the ball," his father said, "because if you don't get rid of it you're going to get hit, and if you get hit you're going to get hurt. You have to learn the cerebral part of the game."

Way back when, Archie Manning never had a chance to learn the cerebral part of football while quarterbacking the sad-sack New Orleans Saints; he was too busy running for his life. "I'm paying for it now, too," he said.

He's 65 and coming off knee replacement and back fusion surgeries. Archie doesn't even like to hold a football anymore, he said, "because every time I had a football in my hands some, I got hit."

Archie gave some thought to taking in a day-night doubleheader Sunday, starting with Peyton against the Jets at MetLife Stadium before heading down the Jersey Turnpike to catch Eli against the Eagles at the Linc. Even though he was at MetLife in February when the Seattle Seahawks did what they did to Peyton's Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, Archie sees every trip to the New York market as a special occasion. He grew up a Yankees fan in Mississippi, and in his first NFL game in Yankee Stadium in 1972, against the Giants, he skipped the pregame meal so he could take a tour of Mickey Mantle's field.

But all these years later, Manning is a member of the first College Football Playoff selection committee and someone who needs to spend his Saturdays studying the best FBS teams in the land. So he'll be staying home this weekend, a safe distance removed from all the cruel things enemy fans will be shouting about his two quarterbacking sons.

Actually, Jets fans will likely direct more venom at their own quarterbacks, one who didn't bother to attend a team meeting (Geno Smith) and one who didn't bother to take his practice time seriously (Michael Vick). Whatever. In Denver, they care only that Peyton Manning needs five touchdown passes to tie Brett Favre's career NFL record of 508.

"Five against a Rex Ryan defense," Archie said, "that's a lot to ask for."

Not this week it isn't.

Only this Sunday is about Eli more than it is about Peyton, who could go 12-4 in his sleep. Though Eli has two championship rings to big brother's one, his Giants -- Tom Coughlin's Giants -- have missed the playoffs four of the past five seasons. They can't afford to make it five out of six.

Archie believes Odell Beckham Jr., out of the same New Orleans high school (Isidore Newman) that produced Peyton and Eli, will help pave the Giants' road back to the tournament. More than anything, the first father of pro football believes his son will keep accumulating West Coast knowledge while elevating his East Coast team.

"I've always been proud of how Eli has handled himself in New York," Archie Manning said. "He doesn't get too high or too low, and he doesn't make a big issue of out of anything. During the preseason, he was as strong and as tough as I've ever seen him.

"I don't think anyone should worry too much about Eli."