Brady boast shows rare Manning moxie

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning paused for about four seconds before giving an answer that suddenly has people up in arms and wanting to call the "Football Cops" on the Giants' quarterback.

In four seconds, Manning can survey a field and find an open receiver against a complex defense.

"The way he can just dissect the defense by picking up on blitzes, catching things, letting you know you're hot off this guy," wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. "I think he can break down a defense just as good as any quarterback in the league."

So four seconds is more than enough time for Manning to digest the question posed to him by ESPN New York 1050's Michael Kay and come up with another bland answer that he has become an all-pro at delivering.

"Are you in the Tom Brady class? Are you in that type of quarterback?" Kay asked.

"Yeah, I consider myself in that class and Tom Brady is a great quarterback," Manning said.

All right, we get it. We understand that Brady has three Super Bowl rings, two Super Bowl MVP trophies and Gisele Bundchen to top it all off.

So a lot of people are buzzing over Manning's comments, enough so that Eli Manning was trending on Twitter on Wednesday.

It would have been so easy for Manning to deliver another boring, politically correct answer to make everyone yawn. But instead, he gave us something he rarely does -- a strong opinion. He publicly displayed the type of confidence and fire that an elite quarterback needs to show and something we would like to see more of from Eli.

If Philip Rivers had said the same thing, it wouldn't have elicited nearly the same type of reaction because Rivers, who does not have a Super Bowl ring, is a fiery individual.

For much of his career, Manning has been criticized on everything from his body language on the field to his leadership skills to his gee-whiz persona in interviews. And now the one time Manning expresses supreme confidence in himself, shows some swagger and answers a question the way he should -- like a leader would -- he's drawing criticism.

Forget about the comparisons between Brady and Manning, as hard as that may be for many now that Manning has said he's on the same level. Obviously, Brady is a better quarterback than Manning, even if Manning is 1-0 against Brady in the Super Bowl.

But the fact that Manning displayed this kind of confidence in himself is a good thing for the Giants. The quarterback is the undisputed leader of the team and the Giants will go only as far as Manning takes them.

Coordinator Perry Fewell's defense won't be able to win every game. The Giants need someone to take charge on offense, especially if they find themselves in the midst of another second-half swoon.

Manning is in his prime at 30 and he's entering perhaps his most pivotal season. He threw for 4,002 yards and 31 touchdowns last year, but it was eclipsed by a league-leading 25 interceptions.

If Manning doesn't have a bounce-back season, the Giants likely won't be back in the playoffs -- and that could mean major changes next year, starting with Tom Coughlin, the only pro coach Manning has known.

There's a lot riding on Manning's shoulder pads this season, to lift not only his level of play but also that of his receivers. He needs to show he's not an interception-prone passer, and he has to lead an offense that lost two of his favorite targets to free agency (tight end Kevin Boss and wide receiver Steve Smith) .

Manning has two very good receivers, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, but the QB will have to find a third receiver out of a group that includes Domenik Hixon, rookie Jerrel Jernigan and Victor Cruz.

He has to get tight end Travis Beckum more involved in his first season as the full-time starter and do all of this while working with a new center (David Baas) and a new left tackle (Will Beatty).

Also, Manning has to figure out a way to beat the Eagles in the NFC East with their insane secondary of Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel.

These are the types of things that an elite quarterback is capable of doing.

"I feel like he's definitely in the top five, as well," Nicks said.

Manning may have to have a Brady-like season given the Giants' brutal second-half schedule that includes the Patriots, Eagles, Saints, Packers, Cowboys and Jets in the last nine games.

So if he truly believes he's on the same level as Brady, Manning will have plenty of chances to prove it this season.

"I'm not a 25-interception quarterback," Manning said. "I know that. That is going to get fixed and it should be a good year.

"He is a great player," Manning added of Brady. "He has grown up and gotten better every year, and that is what I am trying to do. I hope that these next seven years of my quarterback days are my best."