Eli Manning did something on Wednesday that he thought he’d never do again: He stood in front of his locker as the Giants’ projected starting quarterback.
Manning, 38, in the bizarro world of the Giants’ disastrous 2019 season, suddenly is “very likely” to start on Monday Night Football in Philadelphia in place of an injured Daniel Jones, head coach Pat Shurmur said.
Jones is wearing a boot on his right foot and not practicing due to what Shurmur called a “moderate high ankle sprain.” The coach said Jones’ injury was a bit less severe but similar to Saquon Barkley’s early-season high ankle sprain that sidelined him for three weeks.
It is unclear what this means for Manning’s future as a Giant, which appeared to have already come to an end with his Week 3 benching.
Jones’ injury, for example, could mean Manning starts at least two games and possibly even the Giants’ final four to close the season for a proper farewell.
For one more game, though, at least, the two-time Super Bowl MVP is back playing the familiar role he held down for 15-plus seasons.
“You never want to try to make decisions about your future while you’re still kinda living in the present and don’t know the circumstances of what could happen,” said Manning, who is in the final year of his contract. “So I just gotta go out there and try to get a win for the Giants if I'm asked to do that. And I’ll analyze everything else after the season.”
Manning said he had not spoken to the team prior to Wednesday about wanting the opportunity to play one more game in a Giants uniform.
“No. It never came up,” he said.
Manning has essentially been a ghost during open media periods. He hadn’t spoken to the assembled New York media since being benched in Week 3. Often, Jones and third-string QB Alex Tanney stay after practices and throw, but Manning is not seen on the field with them.
The most extensive information available on Manning’s 10-week stretch as Jones’ backup was an October Sports Illustrated profile that said his immediate family had skipped their first home game since Nov. 2004 in Jones’ first home start Week 4 against Washington.
Shurmur said Manning took plenty of scout team snaps during the last 10 weeks and only an “occasional” first-team rep.
Asked why Manning had stopped going to midfield for the coin toss or taking the field for games’ early warm-up periods, Shurmur said: “That’s his choice, just his choice.”
Manning was almost completely phased out, in other words, even though he was dressing as Jones’ backup. And he appeared to have clearly played his final snap as a Giant in a 28-14 home loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 2.
Then Jones hurt his right ankle when Packers edge rusher Preston Smith fell on it during a 4th-and-2 read-option QB dive for a first down on Sunday.
Jones finished the game, though. And as early as lunchtime on Monday, Shurmur was calling Jones’ injury simple “game soreness” on a conference call and said Jones hadn’t gone for an MRI, just “just a normal evaluation.”
Jones even said Monday that “I think I’ll be able to practice. It’s sore, but that’s kind of typical the day after a game. I think it’ll be good to go.”
Later Monday, however, Shurmur said Jones “became more sore” and “was further evaluated through the afternoon and then into Tuesday,” including an MRI on the ankle. And on Tuesday, they told Manning to be ready.
“I knew Daniel was dealing with an injury,” Manning said. “I didn’t know the severity since he finished the game. But I talked to the coaches (Tuesday) and they said he probably wouldn’t practice today and didn’t know the circumstances, so just to be ready in practice this week and see where it goes for Monday night.”
Manning has a 116-116 career regular season record, so starting Monday’s game risks finishing his career with a sub-.500 all-time mark. He also risks being the starter of record when the Giants tie the franchise’s longest-ever single season losing streak at nine.
Manning has not won an NFL game in almost a calendar year, since Dec. 9, 2018, at Washington. He is 0-5 since. His 0-2 start to this season got him benched.
Jones won his first two starts over the Bucs and Washington but is 0-8 since. Manning said being Jones’ backup was “a little different” and required some adjustment.
“It is difficult, especially when you’ve been the starter for so long and you’re not really accustomed to preparing and not putting it to use in that sense,” Manning said. “But I think just having a lot of experience and knowing the offense, (I knew) I could pop in there and be ready to go.”
Manning, asked if he had any conversations with the Giants about being traded at this fall’s deadline, did not answer the question directly.
“Uh, no I don’t think so,” Manning said. “That was a long time ago. Can’t think that far.”
Shurmur said when Manning found out he might play, “he was eager. ‘Let’s go.’ Very eager.’
“I think you’re always eager to play,” Manning said. “That’s why you play. That’s why you compete and you work out and do everything: to go out there and compete on game day and get wins. So I think when you’re not doing that you miss it and you're excited about the competitive part of it.”
The Giants’ coach did say he would go back to Jones when he’s healthy.
“Yeah. When he comes back, sure,” Shurmur said.
If Manning is going to play again Monday in Philadelphia, though, you have to think he’ll get at least one more home game at MetLife Stadium to say goodbye to the Giants’ fans.
And perhaps the Giants will be able to end Manning’s storied chapter on a more positive note than they nearly did with his 2017 and 2019 benchings.
On the other hand, this is the 2019 Giants. So there is a chance this somehow will make it all worse.