- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 27, 2008

Unlike last week, when Little Brother won the NFC Championship game at Green Bay, Peyton Manning will be in attendance a week from tonight when Eli’s New York Giants try to prevent the New England Patriots from making history in Super Bowl XLII.

He’ll be there, yes.

He’ll enjoy it, not so much.

“I’m not a really good [spectator],” Peyton told reporters on Friday. “Some games when Eli plays at 1 p.m. and we have a 4 p.m. or a Sunday night game, I will probably not watch the entire game because I do get emotionally involved.”

Last year, Peyton was physically involved as the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears in his first Super Bowl.

This year has become Eli’s time to be in the Super Bowl, a product of an efficient, turnover-free month of quarterbacking that helped the Giants to their first conference title in seven years and has semi-muted Manning’s legion of doubters.

For most of the season, Manning was considered the questionable link. Too many throws into coverage. Too many sacks that took his team out of field goal range. Too many 4-yard completions on third-and-6.

But at just the right time — the postseason — Manning has elevated his play.

“I feel he’s taken the right steps and he’s really focused on what he has to do,” receiver Plaxico Burress said. “He knows that he’s the leader of our team when he goes and plays well, we usually play well as a team and as an offense.”

If the Giants‘ last four games represent Manning’s finest stretch as a professional, only his absolute best will give New York a chance at upsetting the Patriots.

“We’re going to have to play our best football and play a perfect game if we want to win,” Manning said last week.

Entering the regular-season finale against the Patriots, the Giants hoped Manning’s confidence wouldn’t be shattered entering the postseason. In the previous two games (a loss to Washington and win over Buffalo), Manning was 25-for-78 for 295 yards.

Manning admitted he used the regular-season finale as an opportunity to jump-start an offense that was without tight end Jeremy Shockey. In a 38-35 loss, Manning was 22-for-32 for 251 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.

In his last four games — including the postseason — Manning is 75-for-117 for 850 yards, eight touchdowns, one interception and a 105.0 passer rating.

“If you don’t turn the ball over, you give yourself a greater chance to win,” Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas said. “He’s throwing the ball well. Running the ball has been taking a lot of pressure off him as well, and Plaxico has been running big.”

The Giants‘ top three receivers — Burress, Amani Toomer and Steve Smith — have combined to make 40 receptions for 492 yards.

“Anytime your quarterback doesn’t make turnovers and he has some targets to throw to, and he has a good running game and [the team plays] well defensively — all around the board, they do a good job,” Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour said.

While Thomas and Seymour see a player who is more managing a game than winning it, Manning’s progress has caught safety Rodney Harrison’s attention.

“He’s a guy that’s playing a heck of a lot better than how he played in the middle and first part of the season,” Harrison said. “He’s a guy that just looks like a veteran quarterback. He’s really taking the Giants offense on his shoulders and is leading them.”

What has impressed Peyton the most about Eli’s road to the Super Bowl is the stadiums he has won in — defeating three division champions in as many weeks.

“He’s learned a lot and has seen a lot of different situations,” Peyton said. “Experience is your best teacher. The more you can draw on your previous experiences for two-minute drills, red zone situations, third- and fourth-down conversions, knowing you’ve done it before, you can draw on that.

“What he’s been able to do in these last three playoff games in as high a pressure situation as you could get … it’s a real confidence booster for him and their team knowing he’s done it before and he can certainly do it again.”

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