With his team trailing by 24 points late in the fourth quarter of yesterday's game at FedEx Field, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning dropped back and looked downfield for wide receiver Amani Toomer. Suddenly, Redskins rookie safety Sean Taylor came running up the middle, swatting Manning's pass to the turf. Two plays later, Taylor drilled Manning in the chest after he threw incomplete to receiver Jamaar Taylor, drawing a roughing the passer penalty, but leaving an impression on Manning nonetheless.
That is the life of a high-priced rookie quarterback on a downtrodden NFL team. Manning, who was drafted No. 1 by the San Diego Chargers and then traded to the Giants in a draft-day deal, hasn't won in three starts since replacing veteran Kurt Warner as the Giants' starting quarterback on Nov. 15.
Patrick Ramsey chats with Giants rookie Eli Manning, who completed 12 of 25 passes. "We've had a lot of difficulty with division games," Ramsey said.
(Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
With yesterday's 31-7 loss to the Redskins, the Giants have lost five games in a row to fall to 5-7 and drop further out of the playoff race. Manning, who signed a six-year, $45 million contract with the Giants, has done little to bring them out of their funk. In three starts, he has completed only 42 percent of his passes with four interceptions and one touchdown. Coming into yesterday's game, his quarterback rating of 37.9 was the lowest in the league -- 26 points lower than Redskins backup Mark Brunell and more than 88 points lower than that of his older brother, Indianapolis Colts star Peyton Manning.
"It's tough around here right now," Toomer said. "We've put in a lot of hard work and we've got nothing to show for it. But one thing I want everyone to know is that everybody on our offense believes in Eli. We know there are going to be some growing pains with him. But there are a lot of promising things he's showing us, too."
Manning certainly isn't the first rookie quarterback to struggle. Troy Aikman lost his first 11 starts during his rookie season in 1989 before leading the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl victories. John Elway lost six of his first 10 starts with the Denver Broncos in 1983.Peyton Manning had a 3-13 record during his first season in 1998.
"Yeah, sure," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said, when asked if he would stick with Manning as his starter. "He's got to learn."
Manning learned much from the Redskins, who held the Giants to only 38 rushing yards on 15 attempts. Manning completed his first six passes, but only two of them were longer than five yards. Through three quarters, the Giants had only three first downs and 41 net passing yards. A week ago, the Giants completed only six passes and scored six points -- the fewest in Coughlin's 148 games as an NFL coach.
"We were trying to run the ball, but we couldn't get that going," Manning said. "They were stacking eight, nine players in the box. When we tried to hit the play-action stuff and max protect, they were dropping back into coverage, so I had to take my dump-offs. I hit a couple of short throws and tried to move the ball and get some first downs, but we just couldn't get into a rhythm and make consecutive good plays."
Manning's best throw in the game came late in the fourth quarter, when he completed a 48-yard pass to Toomer down the right sideline. Toomer beat backup cornerback Ade Jimoh to move to the Redskins 36, but then Manning threw incomplete on his next four pass attempts to turn the ball over on downs. Manning completed 12 of 25 passes for 113 yards and was sacked only once. His passer rating of 60.9 was his highest in three starts, but was less than half of Redskins starter Patrick Ramsey's 139.2 rating.
"He hung in there and did a few things better in the second half," Coughlin said. "He gave us an opportunity a couple of times, but he's got a lot to learn. There's a lot to be learned from this game."
Manning's baptism by fire won't get any easier. After facing three of the NFL's best defenses in losses to the Falcons, Eagles and Redskins, the Giants play their next two games against the Ravens and Steelers.
"It's not fun right now," Coughlin said. "It's no fun to lose. It's an awful feeling. The frustrating thing is not being able to push the buttons to turn it around. The players are disappointed."