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The Early Lead
Posted at 02:04 PM ET, 01/19/2012

Has Eli Manning arrived as an elite NFL quarterback?

The knocks on New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning over the years have ranged from his high interception rate to his leadership ability to the deer-in-the-headlights look that often seems to surface in pressure situations.

This year, the younger Manning has proven that he, too, can thrive in the fourth quarter, and with everything on the line on Sunday night in Green Bay, he got the better of Aaron Rodgers, helping his team back to the NFC championship game.

But for all his career accomplishments — including a Super Bowl ring — the debate continues on whether Manning has entered the upper eschelon of NFL quarterbacks. What else does the guy need to do?

Manning, who returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday due to a stomach bug, finished the regular season ranked seventh in the NFL in quarterback rating (92.9). His 4,933 passing yards placed him fourth, behind only Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford. He was sixth in the league with 29 touchdowns and reduced his interception total from 25 a year ago to 16 this season.

Above all, Manning was money in the fourth quarter this season, leading his team to seven come-from-behind regular season wins with poise and confidence down the stretch. And in games against the other top quarterbacks in the league — Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers — Manning was been at his best.

Before the playoffs, Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins argued that Manning belongs among the NFL’s elite QBs.

Great quarterbacks are supposed to show some overt flair, histrionics, right? They’re supposed to gesticulate like Manning’s older brother Peyton, or fling their hair and their temper around like Brady. Eli Manning comes on as colorless, undemonstrative by comparison....
Nevertheless, he has impressed his personality and character on the entire Giants team. The Giants, like him, are a bunch of underestimated gray shirts who beneath their drabness bulge with heavily muscled ambition. Just when you think they are unsensational, they turn deadly.
Argue all you want about what defines elite. Is it completion percentage, aerial yardage, come-from-behind ability, lethalness in the red zone? Manning has shown all of them this season.

Now ‘the other’ Manning leads his Giants into Candlestick Park to take on the San Francisco 49ers looking to earn a spot in the Super Bowl for the first time since 2008 — and a potential rematch with Brady’s Patriots.

Has Eli earned your respect as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL? If not, will another Super Bowl appearance or title elevate him to elite status? Is the guy doomed to second-tier status for the rest of his career? Where does he rank among the NFL’s top passers?

More NFL playoffs coverage from Washington Post Sports:

Manning back at practice after being sidelined by stomach bug

Defenses trumping high-powered offenses again in playoffs

Jenkins: Manning belongs among NFL’s elite quarterbacks

Early Lead: Eli says New York is big enough for him and Peyton

Jason Reid: Playoff QBs offer lessons for Redskins

By  |  02:04 PM ET, 01/19/2012

 
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