Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had seen what Eli Manning did to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers many times before.
Last year’s Super Bowl MVP passed for 510 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday to lead a 25-point, fourth-quarter comeback victory for the New York Giants.
McDermott, a former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator, has watched Manning since he came into the league and knows his defense will be facing one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks Thursday night.
“How can you not give the guy the respect that he has so earned over the last several years, the last three or four in particular,” McDermott said. “You think you’ve got him and then he surges a great comeback and puts the team on his shoulders in the fourth quarter. Then you see him come out right from the start and light it up.
“He’s as good as is there out there in the game today. I firmly believe that, and we’ve got to be prepared.”
Since entering the NFL in 2004, Manning has orchestrated 22 game-winning drives in which the Giants railed from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie.
Manning downplays his late-game success, though, and he deflects praise to his offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, or the bevy of offensive weapons the Giants have. But Giants coach Tom Coughlin said it’s both Manning’s skill and willingness to be a student of the game that helps him anchor those comebacks.
“He might make a mistake and I might be ranting and raving, but it doesn’t get him down. He’s disappointed, but he knows enough and he has enough mental toughness that he moves on to the next play and doesn’t let it affect the next series,” Coughlin said. “That’s a great attribute for a quarterback.
“He has that ability, he’s so well prepared, he thinks, he studies, he knows what he wants to do out there on the field and he knows the opponent. And the guys around him trust and believe in him and that’s huge.”
Two of those guys around him are the leading receivers in the NFL. Charlotte product Hakeem Nicks and third-year receiver Victor Cruz each have 237 receiving yards and a touchdown apiece in two games.
Both are downfield threats, but in reviewing tape from the Panthers game against the Saints, Manning saw strong pressure on the quarterback from Carolina’s pass defense. Fellow elite quarterback Drew Brees passed for 325 yards against the Panthers, but his long passes were taken away by how deep free safety Haruki Nakamura was playing in the secondary.
“They (the Panthers) do a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback whether it’s with a blitz or with their front four,” Manning said. “They show a lot of different coverages and different types of zone blitz and so they do a good job of making the quarterback hold the ball and make the receivers work in the second lanes. If you have time, that’s great. But they do a good job of getting pressure.”
McDermott said Manning has been in the league long enough to where there’s likely no defensive scheme he hasn’t seen. And the Panthers hope they will be able to fool him long enough so that he doesn’t add yet another late, game-winning drive to his impressive resume.
“It’s a great quality that this team has—the way we can fight and win games in the fourth quarter,” Manning said. “And hopefully we can play a little better in the first three quarters.”