Great start for Peyton, Eli on downer

Posted Sept. 29, 2010, at 12:50 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 29, 2010, at 7:04 p.m.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Peyton Manning is on a rampage. Little brother Eli is under siege.

If America’s first family of quarterbacks was like the stock market, Peyton’s price would be soaring, Eli’s would be plummeting.

Peyton is off to the best start of his four-MVP career. In his 13th NFL season, he ranks first in the league with a 116.9 passer rating; Eli, in his seventh season, is ninth in the NFC at 81.7, with five TD passes and six interceptions.

The Colts are 2-1 and Manning is the main reason for both wins. He has nine touchdown passes and no interceptions; his previous best in his MVP seasons of 2004, 2004, 2008 and 2009 was nine TDs and one pick in 2004.

Never had he thrown for three TDs and 300 yards in three straight games at any time in a season. Peyton’s already done that this season.

His 1,013 yards are 30 more than he had in any of those starts, and he’s hitting 69 percent of his throws.

“As odd as it seems or as hard as it is to imagine, I really do think he is getting better,” Colts All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark said. “It’s all those little things he does, but he’s really been on fire this year, just putting the ball where it’s supposed to be.

“It’s the little things like seeing a breakdown and getting rid of the ball quicker or seeing a blitz and getting us in the right protection to make big plays.”

And it’s the big things, like dominating the prime-time matchup with the Giants in Week 2, a 38-14 romp in which big brother was unstoppable and little bro’ was overmatched.

As for Eli, that hangdog look after his team’s second straight defeat says plenty. A week after he was battered at Indy — why was he still in the game until the end with the Colts’ pass rush so dangerous? — Eli threw two interceptions, including one with his left hand, in the loss to the Titans.

Even the preseason was rough on him. Manning’s head was a bloody mess after his helmet came off when Jets linebacker Calvin Pace slammed the quarterback’s head into another player on Aug. 16. He needed 12 stitches to close the cut and missed the next exhibition game.

Is he depressed by the slow start, the sacks — he’s gone down seven times — and pressure applied by defenses, and the six picks and three fumbles he’s made? And the 1-2 record?

“I have to improve my play,” he said. “You look at the turnovers that have happened on my part that I have this season. That’s something I have to fix. There were two turnovers in every game. That’s unacceptable, and you’re not going to win games turning the ball over.

“It starts with me in that a lot of things we are doing well, a lot of good things, but there are too many negative plays. We have too many bad plays that are costing us games. I have to fix that. We have to make sure it starts with me and trickles down to everybody else.”

To a man, the Giants express confidence that they have the right quarterback, not questioning Eli’s leadership or his ability to overcome adversity. Or his pedigree. After all, just like Peyton, Eli has a championship ring and a Super Bowl MVP trophy in his collection.

But Peyton clearly is the Manning with the most in 2010. And it’s not even close.

When told of his sibling’s sizzling numbers, Eli smiled and said, “That’s all new to me. You’re telling me numbers I haven’t even seen.”

Peyton is very likely to keep his surge going at Jacksonville.

He’s had eight of his 59 career 300-yard games against the Jaguars, six of his 62 three-TD games, and four of his 43 career fourth-quarter comebacks against them. He’s 13-4 against the Jags.

“It’s still so game-to-game, and every game kind of takes on its own personality,” he said. “In Houston, there was a lot more throwing than we wanted. The Giants game, the running game was so efficient, it really opened things up … and then last week was kind of a different game at Denver. So we’ve already had three different personalities in three games.”

And two different personalities in the family. Peyton’s had the well-earned swagger, while Eli at times has looked confused as well as besieged.

They chat each week on the phone and root for each other’s teams, except on those every-four-year occasions when they face off. Might be time for a pep talk from big brother.

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