Each time the Chargers win the AFC West, Giants fans can think of April 2004. Each time quarterback Philip Rivers, pass rusher Shawne Merriman or kicker Nate Keading makes the Pro Bowl, those fans can think of the draft picks the Giants traded away that allowed the Chargers to acquire that stellar trio of players.
The Giants, of course, got quarterback Eli Manning out of the deal. But heading into his fourth season, the results have been decidedly mediocre: Manning is 20-19 as a starter with 54 touchdown passes and 44 interceptions. Both of his playoff appearances have been one-and-done.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin is on the hot seat, and running back Tiki Barber is in the television seat at NBC. The pressure on Manning now is not so much to become as good as older brother Peyton in Indianapolis, but to simply be a quarterback who can carry his team for weeks at a time.
If Manning is as good as he was last October, when the Giants went 4-0 and he threw six touchdown passes and only three interceptions, his team should contend for a wild card.
If Manning is as bad as he was in November and December, when Big Blue went 3-6 and he threw nine touchdown passes and nine interceptions, the Giants could finish last in the NFC East and Coughlin will be fired.
“I’m just trying to be consistent and make good throws and take charge of the offense,” Manning said at the beginning of training camp. “Our offense is going to change because we have a new coordinator and we’re going to see in what ways we’re going to be better than last year.”
Without Barber, the onus definitely is on Manning to make a big leap. That he’s shown flashes of outstanding play gives the Giants optimism.
“[Comparing him to Peyton] really isn’t a fair question,” said coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “It is fair for us to ask him to get better, and that’s what we have to expect that those times when he plays very, very well. We need to see that more often.”