EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Norm Van Brocklin. Warren Moon. Boomer Esiason. Dan Marino. Matthew Stafford. Tom Brady. Phil Simms. Drew Brees.
It’s a who’s who of some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, along with a newbie in Detroit’s Stafford. It’s also a list of the top eight in the exclusive 500-yard passing club.
Make it nine.
Eli Manning joined the group Sunday, passing for 510 yards and three touchdowns in a remarkable performance. Leading the Giants to a wild 41-34 win over Tampa Bay allowed the Super Bowl champions to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start.
How good was Manning?
Think about this. His big brother, Peyton, isn’t a member of the 500-yard club and he has always played in more pass-emphasis offenses. But Eli, 31, rose above all of that … and more. After all, keep in mind he accomplished this on a day where he had to forget about three first-half interceptions.
But short-term memory is something Eli has always leaned on. He threw for 295 yards in the second half, and his 243 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter matched what Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman accomplished the entire game.
“How could you not give the guy the respect that he has so earned over the years, the last three or four years in particular,” Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said Monday, three days before his Panthers (1-1) are to face Manning.
“I’ve seen what he did yesterday time and time again. You think you’ve got him and then he serves up a great comeback and puts his team on his shoulders in the fourth quarter. Then (other times) you see him come out right from the start and light it up. He’s as good as there is out there in the game today. I firmly believe that, and we have to be prepared.”
Third-year running back Andre Brown, who played most of the second half as Ahmad Bradshaw was sidelined with a neck injury, watched Manning rally the Giants often last season as a member of the practice squad.
On Sunday, he was an integral part of the comeback and even scored the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds to play. It came two plays after Manning hit Hakeem Nicks on a 50-yard pass play.
“It’s remarkable,” Brown said. “Other than me playing and making sure I’m picking up the blitzes and everything that they’re throwing at me, I’m just making sure I have my guy and making sure Eli has enough time, so he’s making plays. He had a career day and it was just awesome to go out there and just be a part of it instead of standing and cheering them on.”
When asked what it was like being in the huddle, Brown said it was what he expected: Manning called the plays like it was the start of the game. And that’s just Eli, folks.
Up or down. Early or late. Eli is Eli.
“He’s just the same face. Just cool, calm and collected,” Brown said. “He’s just: ‘All right. Here we go. We’ve got to take a shot. ‘Dre, make sure you pick up your blitz.’ And I’m like: ‘All right, cool.'”
A two-time Super Bowl MVP, Manning downplayed his passing total. He even joked that if the Buccaneers’ return yardage was added to his total, he would have broken Van Brocklin’s single-game record of 554 yards set in 1951.
Manning blamed his poor first-half performance on a couple of bad reads and a couple of bad throws. The second half was a different story. He had a lot more fun as he found Victor Cruz, Nicks and Martellus Bennett on one big play after another.
Cruz finished with 11 catches for 179 yards, both career highs. Nicks, who barely practiced because of a sore foot, had 10 catches for 199 yards, with the latter a personal best.
The Giants are the second team in NFL history to have a 500-yard passer and two 150-yard receivers in the same game. Van Brocklin’s 1951 Rams were the first.
“Obviously it’s fun when guys are getting open and guys are making plays and you’re seeing things,” Manning said. “You get to fight back and especially the first half, you’re frustrated and you’re angry and then you get the excitement of coming back and see it happening.”
Manning has made the fourth quarter his personal territory. He rallied the Giants to victory five times last season in games in which they trailed heading into the final frame. The No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft set an NFL record last season throwing 15 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
“He just puts his team on his shoulders,” said McDermott, who was on the Eagles staff working with defensive backs when Manning came into the league. ” We’ve seen him do it in the Super Bowl twice and saw him do it again yesterday and that’s the mark of a great player that can do that when facing adverse times like he did yesterday.”
Giants cornerback Corey Webster said Manning hasn’t even peaked yet.
“I think he’s an elite quarterback hands down,” Webster said Monday. “I think he goes out there every day in practice to try to critique his craft just as well as he motivates a lot of people to do the same. When you’ve got a guy out there doing it in practice, the reward is watching him do it in the games. He’s a great quarterback. He’s one of the best in the business, if not the best.”