Manning is the team’s highest-paid player by a wide margin at $18 million this season. He’s paid and treated as the superstar quarterback, even if he's not playing like it this season, or for the better part of the past four years.
As the picture comes into focus on Manning, those two Super Bowls fall deeper into the horizon. Star quarterbacks are supposed to be able to carry teams. They’re occasionally asked to put them on their shoulders and win games, almost by themselves.
It has been a long time for Manning. It seems like forever. He hasn’t done it against a serious contender now in three-plus years. The Giants' last win against a quality opponent was when they beat the Green Bay Packers late in the 2012 season.
Manning had a chance each of the past two weeks -- in Minnesota and Green Bay -- to finally turn the tide. The Giants are an improved team and roster from the past few years. Or so we thought. Manning and the Giants could have shown that finally they were a team to be reckoned with in the NFC.
Consider it a massive blown opportunity.
The Giants were never really close in either contest, and Manning didn’t play even remotely well. It was almost as if he tried playing quarterback on hot coals.
The Giants quarterback looked that uncomfortable in Sunday night’s 23-16 loss to the Packers. He was throwing quickly, inaccurately and missed several potential big plays in the first half. He overthrew star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., was a little off-target to tight end Will Tye deep down field. Manning threw behind Beckham and Sterling Shepard on several others, and even threw some into the ground or off target when there were opportunities to make plays.
It was ugly. Manning had a chronic case of happy feet, then the Giants blamed it again on Cover 2, a basic defense that has been around for years. Such a disappointment. What a missed opportunity.
Manning's numbers weren’t terrible. He completed 18-of-35 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown on Sunday night at Lambeau Field. But even average numbers can sometimes be deceiving. Manning was even worse than they suggest.
The Giants were facing an injury-ravaged Packers secondary missing their top two cornerbacks. Even before that, the Packers were a unit that was allowing more than 300 passing yards per game. So the opportunity for Manning to carry the Giants was there. He just didn’t come through ... again.
"The pocket was hot," coach Ben McAdoo said. "The pocket was hot. We didn’t complete enough footballs. We need to complete the ball more."
What the Giants really need is to reach the end zone more often through the air. In a league that is tilted toward the passing game, Manning has thrown just two touchdown passes over his past four outings. That’s not going to get it done against any competition.
Against quality competition such as the Vikings and Packers (especially on the road), it wasn’t even close. The Giants needed Manning to carry them to victory. Apparently, that was too ridiculous a request, even though Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are supposed to do it with regularity, not once every four years or so. They’re supposed to hang in the pocket, take big hits when necessary, make big throws and lift their team to occasional victories when they’re not the better team.
Manning pitter-pattered around the pocket and his passes missed the mark.
The cold reality is that Manning has been an $18 million middle-of-the-road quarterback for much of the past four years, incapable of carrying his team to a single notable victory. It’s disappointing, much like the effort on Sunday night when the Giants were out of sync again. Afterward, Manning might have been in shock or denial.
"I don’t know if it’s we’re not clicking," he said. "We’ve done some good things early on. Just in these last two weeks, obviously last week, went against a really good defense in Minnesota and this week, again, against a good defense, they had a good plan and executed it well.
"I still feel we’re a good offense and we have to understand how teams are going to start playing us. We have to be ready for that and just try to get them out of it."
Well, shouldn’t that have been done before they played the Vikings and Packers? Now, two of the best opportunities for Manning to show he still has those kinds of games left in his 35-year-old body were wasted, similar to the past four playoff-less seasons.
Only a couple more prime opportunities exist in December for Manning to prove this trend isn’t true. Back-to-back games against suddenly dangerous Dallas, and Pittsburgh, could say a lot about whether some of those moments remain.
At some point, he’s going to need to prove against quality competition that he can carry this Giants team. They’re going to need it, or else they’re in trouble this season and moving forward.