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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

E. Manning to Start for Giants

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2004; 3:35 PM

New York Giants Coach Tom Coughlin today named Eli Manning, the top overall choice in the draft in April, the starter for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons at Giants Stadium. It will be the first regular-season NFL start for Manning, who takes over for veteran Kurt Warner with the Giants struggling.

"He is the future of the New York Giants," Coughlin said during his news conference this afternoon. "It just starts now."

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Coughlin had expressed irritation last week with questions about when he might replace Warner with Manning. But the Giants and Warner no longer are the feel-good success story that they were a few weeks ago. Their season suddenly appears on its way to unraveling, as Warner was sacked six times in Sunday's 17-14 loss at Arizona that dropped the Giants' record to 5-4. They've lost two straight games and are 1-3 since their 4-1 start.

It was the Giants' first road loss since their season-opening defeat in Philadelphia. They'd won at Green Bay, Dallas and Minnesota since then, and they'd managed to hold things together on each previous occasion when it appeared that their season might be on its way to falling apart.

Not this time. The Giants raced to a 14-3 lead Sunday with touchdowns on their first two possessions. But the closest they came to scoring after that was a missed 44-yard field goal attempt by kicker Steve Christie that was partially blocked, and they had 10 penalties in their sloppy performance.

Coughlin said during his postgame news conference that it was "a very frustrating and difficult loss."

Warner completed 19 of 30 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown, and didn't throw an interception. He still has thrown only four interceptions this season. But he again has begun to resemble a quarterback who gets rattled by any sort of decent pass rush, and the Giants had an alternative.

They regarded Manning as a once-in-a-generation quarterback prospect when they traded for him on draft day, and Warner acknowledged from the outset that the prized rookie would play whenever he was ready to play.

Manning looked like the better quarterback most of the time during training camp and the exhibition season, when Coughlin put the starting job up for grabs. But Coughlin named Warner the starter almost immediately after Manning had a poor performance in the third of four preseason games, and it looked like the right choice when Warner played error-free football while the team was winning in the first half of the season.

The prosperity didn't last, however, and Coughlin faced the first tough coaching choice regarding the career paths of the Big Three quarterbacks in this year's draft. It has been easy for San Diego Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer, who has left rookie Philip Rivers on the bench while Drew Brees has quarterbacked the club into a first-place tie in the AFC West. And it was easy for Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Bill Cowher, who went to rookie Ben Roethlisberger because veteran Tommy Maddox got hurt in Week 2. But Coughlin had a decision that could have gone either way, and he had to balance the current needs of his team against the effects that he believed playing Manning now might have on the rookie's long-term development.

Roethlisberger, as it turned out, clearly was ready when he got his chance: The Steelers are 7-0 in his starts. And most NFL talent evaluators regarded Manning, entering the draft, as being better equipped than Roethlisberger to play and succeed immediately. But there was no way of knowing when Roethlisberger took over for Maddox that he would thrive like this. And Roethlisberger has a powerful team around him, while Manning will have to operate behind an increasingly leaky offensive line and will be asked to make up for the prospective shortcomings of a defense that has been left short-handed by injuries.

The Giants' schedule is rugged in the coming weeks. They must play the NFC's two top teams, the Falcons and Eagles, the next two weekends, albeit both at home. Then they go up against punishing defenses in road games at Washington and Baltimore the two weeks after that.

Coughlin is the sort of old-school coach who usually is inclined to stick with a veteran quarterback as long as he can. Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi said recently there was no rush to play Manning and Warner perhaps could have opened next season as the starter if the Giants had gone deep into the playoffs with him in charge and he wanted to stay. But the ways of today's NFL suggested that Manning would be the Giants' starter by Opening Day of next season: All four of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round last year began this season as starters. The only questions were whether the Giants should get his learning process started sooner than that, and whether he gives the club a better chance to win than Warner does right now. Coughlin, it now appears, believes that he does.

If Manning still is in the lineup next month, it could create two intriguing matchups. He could face Roethlisberger, who was drafted 10 spots beneath him in April, when the Steelers visit Giants Stadium on Dec. 18. And he could square off with last year's top overall draft pick, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, when the Giants play at Cincinnati on Dec. 26.

Green Has Cardinals Thriving

Dennis Green had a tumultuous first half-season as the Cardinals' coach. He reworked his offensive line almost constantly and continued to revamp his coaching staff into the season. He had to play without injured wide receiver Anquan Boldin, and the Cardinals lost five of their first seven games. But Boldin is back in the lineup now, and the Cardinals suddenly look like a team that could be dangerous in the season's second half. They've won two straight games. They're 3-1 at home this season and, at 4-5 overall, they're only a game behind the division-leading St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks in the meek NFC West. . . .

The Carolina Panthers placed tailback Stephen Davis on the injured reserve list over the weekend because of his ailing knee. The move gave the Panthers 11 players on the IR list, including their top three running backs -- Davis, DeShaun Foster and Rod Smart -- as well as star wide receiver Steve Smith and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. After running for 1,444 yards last season, Davis finishes this season with 92 rushing yards on 24 carries in two games. Still, the defending NFC champs ended a six-game losing streak with Sunday's 37-27 win at San Francisco. It was the Panthers' first victory since Sept. 19. . . .

The notion entering the season that the NFC East would be loaded has proven to be way off base. The Giants' downward spiral creates the possibility that the Eagles will be the only team in the division to finish the season above .500. The Eagles are 6-1 against non-NFC East opponents. The Giants, Cowboys and Redskins are a combined 8-11. . . .

Anyone who was surprised that Steelers linebacker Joey Porter and Cleveland tailback William Green were ejected from Sunday's game for their parts in a fight about 45 minutes before kickoff wasn't thinking back to Warren Sapp's pregame antics last season, while he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sapp was involved in a series of incidents in which he disrupted other teams' pregame warmups by running through their stretching lines. When Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington vowed publicly to "get'' Sapp if Sapp tried that before a game at FedEx Field, the league office "reminded'' both teams that referees would monitor pregame activities and players could be disciplined for their conduct before games.

Krenzel Winning

Just call him Roethlisbeger Lite: Rookie quarterback Craig Krenzel improved to 3-0 as Chicago's starter with Sunday's 19-17 overtime triumph at Tennessee.

Krenzel, a fifth-round draft selection from Ohio State, didn't contribute all that much to the victory. He threw two interceptions in a 10-for-28, 116-yard passing day. His 19.3 passer rating was the lowest in the league this season for the quarterback of a winning team, and the Bears won on a safety in overtime.

But Krenzel engineered the drive that produced a tying field goal near the end of regulation, and he is succeeding where Jonathan Quinn failed after taking over for the injured Rex Grossman as the Bears' quarterback.

Chicago has its first three-game winning streak since December 2001 and the Bears, at 4-5, are only a game out of first place in the forgiving NFC North. . . . .

Titans left tackle Brad Hopkins will have to undergo surgery to repair broken bones in his right hand suffered Sunday. The Titans also must await the results of MRI exams on defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth's right elbow and safety Tank Williams's left leg.. . . Miami's interim coach, Jim Bates, today named A.J. Feeley to start at quarterback for the Dolphins, ahead of Jay Fiedler, on Sunday at Seattle. Fiedler lost perhaps his biggest booster in the organization when coach Dave Wannstedt resigned last week.

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