EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was an honest answer to a direct question. Eli Manning thought it was innocent enough. And it happened more than two months ago.
Yet Manning still is asked about saying that, yes, he is in Tom Brady's class as an elite quarterback.
"I thought it was a normal interview and nothing would really come out of it," Manning said of his Aug. 16 appearance on "The Michael Kay Show" on ESPN New York 1050.
"I don't think I answered it incorrectly. I thought I gave an honest answer and gave my opinion. I never took back the statement."
Even better for the New York Giants, Manning has backed up his talk through the first six games of the 2011 season.
It doesn't get any more elite than those three.
Coming off the bye week, Manning hopes to continue his stellar play against a Miami Dolphins team seeking its first win.
Manning, 30, has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 1,778 yards and 11 touchdowns, ranking in the top 10 in all three categories.
Manning insists he has not been trying to prove anything.
"Not trying to prove; just want to play football," Manning said. "I don't take back my answer [to Kay's question]. I guess if I had to do it again, maybe I would say I'm not the one rating quarterbacks. I'm just trying to play my position."
Perhaps the most important statistic -- besides the Giants' four wins -- is Manning's interception total. After throwing 25 picks last year, he has five in 2011.
In three of the Giants' six games this season, Manning did not throw an interception. The Giants won those games against Philadelphia, Arizona and Buffalo. Those games were also won in the fourth quarter.
The Giants' only loss in their last five games was to Seattle, when Manning threw for a career-high 420 yards and three touchdowns but had three interceptions. Two of those picks came in the final two minutes, with one going off Victor Cruz's hand after the receiver slipped on a route near the goal line. The ball landed in Brandon Browner's hands, and he returned it 94 yards for a touchdown.
The third and final interception came as the Giants were desperate to make something happen, down 36-25 with 24 seconds left.
Last year, Manning was plagued by passes that bounced off his receivers' hands. Of his 25 interceptions, nine came off tips.
Manning also had eight games last year in which he threw two or more interceptions. So far this season, he only has one multi-interception game.
"He's doing a terrific job in judgment," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "He's been willing to take a sack. He's been willing to throw the ball away. I don't see him forcing the ball.
"We had the bad turnover game and we got beat," Gilbride said of the Seattle loss. "Is it his fault? Well, it's always going to come on him, but you have a receiver slip, you have a guy break a route, you have another guy not do what he's supposed to. But usually he's been on top of it and been able to overcome those things."
Through his first six games last year, Manning threw 10 touchdowns but had eight interceptions. He's improved on those numbers so far and has been able to do this despite losing two of his most trusted targets -- tight end Kevin Boss and wide receiver Steve Smith -- to free agency during training camp.
Considering that he has worked with younger and unproven players like Cruz and tight end Jake Ballard, along with a revamped offensive line, Manning could have had a rough start.
"He has spent an awful lot of time with the receivers, the tight ends and the runners," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "He just continued to work with them just making sure that they understood what he was looking for, what the adjustments were going to be, and he meets with them every week. He stayed with the idea that he was going to get this thing right.
"Once they got on the same page, he truly believed that good things would happen. And he has basically forced that issue since Day One."
Manning will have ample opportunity to prove that he is indeed a top-five elite quarterback. Next week, the Giants visit Brady and the Patriots to start a six-game stretch that includes games against Michael Vick's Eagles, Brees' Saints, Rodgers' Packers and Tony Romo's Cowboys.
Manning was asked what his definition is of an elite quarterback.
"I don't think there is an exact definition," Manning said. "A guy who puts his team in position to win games."
Then, of course, came the natural question: "That being said, are you an elite quarterback?"
"Always work at being one," Manning replied. "Each year."