Giants co-owner John Mara voices regrets on handling of Eli Manning benching

Stephen A. fired up about Eli benching (1:59)

Stephen A. Smith calls out everyone in the Giants organization from ownership to head coach Ben McAdoo for benching two-time Super Bowl QB Eli Manning. (1:59)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' owner has some regrets about the way in which quarterback Eli Manning lost his starting job on Tuesday.

"Maybe the timing of it could have been a little different. I wish I could've been here when that was all going down," said co-owner John Mara, who was attending owners' meetings in New York when the decision was made on Tuesday. "What I did not expect -- and this was my fault; maybe I was naïve. I did not expect Eli to react by saying to go ahead and start the other guys.

"I understand, especially after speaking with him [Wednesday]. I completely understand, but that took me by surprise a bit and maybe I would've handled that a little differently."

Manning declined an option to start Sunday against the Oakland Raiders before giving way to Geno Smith, likely in the second half. Manning instead elected to hand over the reins after 14 seasons and 210 straight consecutive regular-season starts. Rookie Davis Webb will also factor into the equation down the stretch of the season.

The Giants' decision to demote Manning was met by a maelstrom from fans, former players and media alike.

"I thought it was pathetic," the usually reserved Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers told reporters on Wednesday.

Rivers was part of the 2004 draft-day trade between the Chargers and Giants that landed Manning in New York. Both quarterbacks have become franchise icons, with Manning winning two Super Bowls for the Giants.

But Mara said he mentioned to general manager Jerry Reese a week or two ago that it might be time to look at other quarterbacks with the Giants' 2-9 season having spiraled out of control. Mara was under the impression that Reese and coach Ben McAdoo had already talked about the possibility of removing Manning as the starting quarterback.

McAdoo has continuously said the team's brass was "on the same page" with the decision and the way it was all handled. Fans definitely weren't, and Mara heard from plenty of them after the decision.

"I understand they feel that way," he said. "I've been around long enough that when you get to a decision like this, there is no clean way to handle it. Again, it was not the way we hoped it would turn out. I was hoping he would continue to play."

The plan they hatched called for Manning to remain the starter, but at some point during Sunday's game it give way to Smith. In retrospect, Mara said, the plan was flawed.

"I was hoping it would turn out differently and he would continue to play some portion of the games, but at some point we'd work in the other quarterbacks," Mara said. "But he didn't want to do it that way, and I understand that. I respect him so much, and I'm not going to argue with him.

He later added: "After talking to him [Wednesday], I understand why it wasn't [a good plan]. He's a competitor, and he wants to be out there playing."

Yanking Manning at halftime as McAdoo suggested was the plan or at any point during a game didn't seem to make much sense to the quarterback, even if it sounded reasonable to the Giants' brass. There had to be a better way for them to handle the situation.

"There probably is," Mara said. "Tell me what it is. I don't know. I mean, I didn't necessarily think it had to be at the half. I think if he's playing well in the first half, we're winning the game, it looks like we've got a chance, the offense is clicking, I would argue then keep him in the game. But, having him definitively come out at the end of the first half -- I can understand why he would object."

Mara and Manning met on Wednesday morning. The Giants owner described it as an "emotional" meeting for both parties. That doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't at all contentious.

"He is obviously not happy with the decision, but he understands it," Mara said. "I told him my hope here is that you would continue to play, not only to keep your streak alive, but I didn't want him to go out like this. But I understand. I understand. I respect his decision. He doesn't want the streak to be tarnished by just getting in for a few series or something."

Manning, 36, is the franchise leader in attempts, completions, yards, touchdown passes and interceptions. He's a potential future Hall of Fame quarterback with two Super Bowl MVPs on his résumé.

The Giants were still extremely careful not to close the door on a resurrection. A lot can happen between now and the start of next season, including potential changes at the top of the organization.

"I don't think you should be writing his obituary just yet," Mara said. "A lot of things can change between now and next spring and next season. We obviously have some tough decisions to make at the end of the year, and we don't know what is going to happen."

Mara wasn't willing to address the future of his general manager and coach. He wouldn't even guarantee their safety through the end of the season.

That further muddies Manning's future. He's signed for two more seasons and has a no-trade clause. McAdoo seems to understand.

"Yeah, again, nobody says we're moving on from anybody," McAdoo said. "But when you're going through a situation like this, this isn't my first time going through it like you said. You know, there's going to be emotions involved. There's going to be outrage and you have to stick to your decision and do what you feel is best for the organization."

McAdoo was in Green Bay when Brett Favre gave way to Aaron Rodgers. That worked out OK for the Packers, even if Favre said years later that the ending was messy.

Much as this has been with Manning and the Giants.