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Eli is still N.Y.'s best bet to win a ring

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning just heaved it up there, a can of corn for the center fielder in Philadelphia Eagles colors, and that was a most fitting wrap on a season best described as a complete waste. The intended receiver, Rueben Randle, said that he did not see the ball clearly in the MetLife Stadium lights and that he did not see the lurking safety at all, and called his failure to break up the interception "an unfortunate situation."

At least Randle didn't say the dog ate his playbook.

What did it matter, anyway, in the wake of this 34-26 defeat? Football teams that finish 6-10 are always left with excuses, regrets and pending news conferences to announce whether this coach or that coordinator gets to stay or go. In the case of the New York Giants and Tom Coughlin, their two-time Super Bowl champ, co-owner John Mara race-walked past a small circle of reporters in the hallway and declined comment before allowing that he'll publicly address the obvious issues later this week.

Coughlin? He would only say he'll conduct his standard evaluation of his players and "go about my business just like I always do, until I'm told otherwise." Coughlin passed on the opportunity to state he wants to return for a 12th season with the Giants ("I'm not going to share any of those kind of thoughts") but did say that any change "will be initiated by ownership" and that he believes his team is "heading in the right direction."

Bottom line: People close to Coughlin have said he wants to return, and Mara's history is one of craving stability and looking for reasons to keep people instead of looking for reasons to fire them. The Giants are expected to retain Coughlin, along with GM Jerry Reese, just as they are expected to do business with Eli Manning and extend a contract set to expire after next season.

"I haven't thought about it. I've just been worried about our upcoming season," Manning said as he headed for the MetLife exits. He was asked if he wanted a deal in place before the start of 2015. "No, not necessarily," he said. "It does not concern me."

Manning was leaving behind a strange day at the end of a strange year. He threw 53 times against Philly for 429 yards, but delivered only one touchdown pass and flinched under pressure on the fatal interception in the closing minutes. He finished the season with at least 4,000 passing yards for the fourth time in his career, hit the 30-touchdown mark for only the second time, and set a career high with 379 completions and a 63.1 percent completion rate, but failed miserably in the one area in which franchise quarterbacks are judged.

Eli Manning, two-time Super Bowl MVP, failed to lead the Giants to the playoffs. For the fifth time in six years.

And here's the worse news, New Yorkers. After absorbing so much mind-numbing malpractice from your pro sports teams, Manning remains the best bet to book the market's next ticker-tape parade since he delivered the last one in the winter of 2012.

No, that's not a comforting thought. Manning will turn 34 Saturday, and there were times this year when he didn't look a day younger than 35. Even though the back end of his prime will be shared with the video game figure known as Odell Beckham Jr., whose nausea and vomiting Sunday didn't stop him from scoring a 63-yard touchdown and catching 12 passes for 185 yards, Manning isn't surrounded by a supporting cast built to let him age gracefully.

The Giants managed all of one victory over a team with a winning record (the 9-7 Houston Texans) for a reason. They still need reconstructive surgery on the offensive line, they can't run the ball consistently, and they need to put more pressure on the opposing quarterback. The return of Victor Cruz isn't going to fix all of that.

Charged to close out 2014 with a four-game winning streak, the Giants couldn't even beat an Eagles team that had lost three straight and had failed to beat Washington with everything on the line. Old friend Mark Sanchez, who kick-started the Giants' last Super Bowl run with a butt-ugly, 59-pass Christmas Eve performance as a member of the Jets, looked like a model of efficiency this time around when measured against the wild-chucking Eli.

"It puts too much pressure on any quarterback," Coughlin said of the Giants' 25 rushing attempts for a lousy 76 yards. "You've got to have some kind of something to balance off."

The Eagles blocked a punt and returned it for a score, and Giants offensive lineman Will Beatty was nailed for holding on what would've been a 34-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Randle. Those are the things that happen to bad teams, and yes, the Giants are very much a bad team.

But Coughlin's second consecutive losing season after a run of eight consecutive non-losing seasons -- with two ring ceremonies wedged in there somewhere -- shouldn't cost him his job, not when his franchise player is fully invested in him.

"I'm going to support my coaches," Manning said. "I think Coach Coughlin is an excellent coach and he deserves to be the coach and we've got to play better for him."

The Giants have to play much better for him next fall, or there will be no saving the old man. What are the chances of an Eli-Coughlin ticket actually making it back to the White House?

Better than the odds of every other major team in town. Even though Geno Smith, of all people, suddenly looked like Joe Willie Namath down in Miami, the Jets are about to start all over with a new administration. Phil Jackson's 5-28 Knicks? Hey, Carmelo Anthony would kill for Manning's supporting cast, flawed as it might be.

The Yankees are entering the danger zone known as the post-Jeter era, and the Mets are still the Mets until they actually finish over .500 for the first time since 2008. Henrik Lundqvist led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals last season, but he has never won the big one, and Manning has the muscle memory after winning it twice.

Back in September, after the Giants' victory over the Texans, Archie Manning told ESPNNewYork.com that his son really, really liked Ben McAdoo's version of the West Coast offense. "This is going to be good for him," Archie said then.

Coughlin effectively called Eli's father a prophet Sunday, maintaining that Manning had all but mastered the scheme and that the system "suits him to a tee." But this was after Manning's underthrow resulted in Nate Allen's interception, and left a beaten Eli huddling with McAdoo and looking over photos of Philly's coverage.

The quarterback spoke of feeling comfortable with the offense and the point total it produced, and predicted that the experience will make the Giants "that much stronger" in Year 2. This much is certain up front: No backup should bother warming up in the pen.

Manning has made 178 consecutive starts for the Giants, postseasons included, so he'll be there in 2015 from start to finish. And if you review the littered landscape of local teams, you will understand why a 6-10 Eli -- warts and all -- remains New York's best bet for a near-future reprieve.