Eli Manning announced his retirement from the NFL at the New York Giants‘ team facility on Friday, bringing to an . Manning never took a snap with another team after the Giants traded for him in the 2004 NFL Draft and he never missed a game due to injury — playing through a separated shoulder, multiple lower-body injuries, and other ailments that never made the media rounds because he refused to mention them. There will be a time for the “should Manning be in the Hall of Fame or not?” debate — but that time is not now — at least not here. Instead, we’ll celebrate his career by ranking his 10 greatest games, but first, let’s break down the criteria:
- We will be ranking these games by individual performance and not simply by the best wins of Manning’s career.
- While factoring in Manning’s individual performances, we will also take into account whether or not the Giants won, what the stakes of each game were, and where he was at in his career at the time.
- There will be several games that made our honorable mentions, and if you still think we missed others, you can always feel free to contact the writer and blast away at him on Twitter.
Without further ado, let’s jump right in:
No. 10: Eli leaves his mark on ‘Jerry’s World’
AT&T Stadium — or as some refer to it, “Jerry’s World” — was completed on May 27, 2009. The Dallas Cowboys hosted their first game at the new stadium in Week 2 of the 2009 season against the Giants. Manning did everything in his power to make it a bitter debut for the Cowboys in his new stadium. He completed 66% of his passes for 330 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Despite Manning’s efforts, the middling Giants defense allowed the Cowboys to grab a 31-30 lead after a 71-yard touchdown drive. Manning got the ball back with 3:41 remaining in the fourth quarter and proceeded to lead a 57-yard field goal drive that included two third-down conversions through the air. Lawrence Tynes connected on a 37-yard game-winning field goal as time expired to give the Giants a 33-31 win.
It later surfaced that Manning signed the visitor’s locker room wall with a message that included, “’33-31′ first win in the new stadium.” Of course, in classic Eli fashion, he later cleared the air on what his intentions were behind signing the locker room. If you’re a Giants fan reading this now, we’ll forgive you if you want to remember the story otherwise and disregard Manning’s explanation below.
“It’s not like I was trying to do anything disrespectful to their new stadium by any means,” Manning said in 2010, via Ralph Vacchiano. “I was surprised (at the attention it got) just because it is a tradition in a lot of other stadiums. Part of the reason why is it just wasn’t explained very well. People made it sound like I just went right in their locker room and right for everybody to see, (like) I was trying to do something disrespectful. It wasn’t like that by any means.”
No. 9: Eli grabs a rare win in Philadelphia
The Giants haven’t had the best of luck against the Eagles in Philadelphia over the last decade. The Eagles are 16-4 in their last 20 meetings against the Giants and New York won just two of those games in Philadelphia, but one of those victories came during Manning’s second Super Bowl season in 2011. What makes this game so special is that Manning was lights out. He completed 70% of his passes (16 of 23) while averaging a ridiculous 11.4 yards per pass attempt. Manning finished with 254 yards passing, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, the fifth-best passer rating of his career (145.7) and the Giants defeated the Eagles 29-16. Without this key NFC East victory, they don’t have a chance to win the division and later go on another classic postseason run.
No. 8: Eli leads the Giants back from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit
The 2000s was a better decade for the Giants against the Eagles (they went 10-13), but one of the most memorable victories came on the road during the 2006 season. In just his 27th career appearance, on the road in Philadelphia, Manning led the Giants back in the fourth quarter after trailing 24-7. In a time (the 2006 season) before offensive coordinators realized they could throw to running backs — and completion rates were down big league-wide — Manning completed 72% of his passes (31 of 43) for 371 yards, three touchdowns, and with one interception. The Giants scored 23 unanswered. Manning threw a walk-off 31-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress in overtime to seal the victory.
No. 7: The first time you knew Eli could be special
Everyone had their moment of truth when they realized Manning could be the guy to lead the Giants to the promised land (long before his two Super Bowl MVPs), but for most, that moment came in 2005 during the quarterback’s 15th career appearance. The stat line (214 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) probably won’t impress you even for 2005 NFL standards, but as we know, box scores can be deceiving and that was certainly the case here. The 5-1 (at the time) Denver Broncos led the Giants 23-10 entering the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough.
After cutting the lead to six points in the fourth, Manning and the Giants receiving the football on their own 17-yard line with just 3:29 remaining after a Broncos punt. Manning led the Giants on a 15-play, 83-yard touchdown drive. The drive included what — to this day — I consider the most athletic play of Manning’s career when he rolled right, pivoted and did a Russell Wilson-esque roll to his left before completing a third-down pass. The drive also included an iconic walk-off touchdown pass on third and goal to Amani Toomer.
You can find the entire epic drive here.
No. 6: Eli burns Brady, Belichick in New England
In the long-awaited first matchup since the Giants knocked off the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, Manning saved his best for the fourth quarter once again. During the 2011 regular season, the Giants had a road matchup against the Patriots whose record during the Brady-Belichick era at home — at the time — was even more impressive than it is now.
Both teams entered the game with a 5-2 record and you could just get the feeling — even this early in the regular season — this game had playoff implications. The Patriots scored a touchdown to take a 20-17 lead with 1:36 remaining in the fourth quarter. In just 1:21 of game time, Manning led an 8-play, 80-yard touchdown drive where the Giants didn’t gain a single yard rushing the football. Despite only needing a field goal, Manning capped off the fourth-quarter comeback drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake Ballard leaving just 19 seconds left of game clock for Brady to work with. Spoiler: it wasn’t enough time. The Giants won 24-20 in another regular season victory that added to the greatest season of Manning’s career.
No. 5: Manning torches the Cowboys to win the NFC East
In the 2011 season, after defeating the New York Jets in Week 16 in a game that was turned around by a 99-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Victor Cruz, the Giants still had to overcome one more hurdle if they wanted to win the division and make the postseason. A Week 17 home matchup against the Dallas Cowboys in prime time awaited them. The winner would also take the division and advance to the postseason. The NFL didn’t exactly get the game they wanted. Manning and the Giants’ passing offense couldn’t be stopped that night. He completed 73% of his passes for 346 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. The Giants routed the Cowboys 31-14 in a game that was all but over in the second quarter (21-0 Giants) — until it wasn’t. Tony Romo cut the lead late, but Manning responded by leading two more fourth-quarter touchdown drives and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks to put the game out of hand.
You might be noticing a trend by now — the majority of Manning’s best games came during the 2011 season. In fact, the 2011 season as a whole is the most misremembered season of Manning’s career. Some people remember it as another season where he played fine, but the Giants defense carried him. In reality, Manning nearly threw for 5,000 yards passing behind Pro Football Focus’ No. 32 (dead last) pass-blocking offensive line, with a rushing offense that finished No. 32 in yards per attempt and yards per game, and a defense that was No. 27 in yards per game allowed and No. 25 in points per game allowed.
No. 4: Eli defeats arguably Aaron Rodgers‘ best team ever
Rodgers won a Super Bowl in 2010 and returned to lead the Packers to a 15-1 season in 2011. The Packers finished the season as Football Outsiders’ clear-cut No. 1 team in DVOA. This was the best team in football and the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but they met their match in the divisional round against Manning and the Giants. Manning torched the Packers for 330 yards, three touchdowns, and with one interception while completing 64% of his passes during the Giants’ 37-20 victory. Manning and the Giants offense closed out the game with 17 points on their final three possessions (field goal, touchdown, and touchdown drives). The Packers might have been the best team in football during the regular season, but the Giants were the best team in football that day and during the entirety of the 2011 postseason.
No. 3: Super Bowl XLII
You might have expected to see this No. 1 because it’s easily the greatest victory of Manning’s career, but it wasn’t his No. 1 individual game. Manning finished a very respectable (especially for 2007 NFL standards and against a Belichick defense with two weeks to prepare) 19 of 34 for 255 yards passing, two touchdowns, and with one interception. However, it was the work Manning did in the fourth quarter that separated this game from others. Manning and the Giants offense took over trailing 7-3 at the beginning of the fourth quarter when he connected with tight end Kevin Boss on a 45-yard completion — the most underrated play of this game from the most unheralded player on the 2007 roster. Manning capped off the 6-play, 80-yard touchdown drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to David Tyree — that obviously wasn’t the last we would hear of the sixth-round pick drafted one year prior to Manning.
When the Patriots took back the 14-10 late in the fourth quarter, Manning and the Giants took over at their own 17-yard line needing a touchdown (and a touchdown only) following the kickoff with just 2:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. Manning led a 12-play, 83-yard scoring drive. The Giants ran into trouble early and faced a third-and-10 from their own 28-yard line when Manning connected with Toomer — one-yard short of the sticks. Brandon Jacobs punched it forward to keep the Giants alive. The drive is most famous for the third-and-5 conversion to Tyree — and we’ll have the video below so you can run it back for the thousandth time — but there were several other key plays that made it possible. On third-and-11 from the Patriots’ 25-yard line, Manning found wide receiver Steve Smith for a 12-yard gain and a first down. On the very next play, the Patriots geared up to send a Cover-0 (all out, with no safety help over the top) blitz at Manning for the first time that entire drive. Manning recognized this based on film study and made the correct decision to loft the ball with a lot of air to Burress in the back corner of the end zone. After one final failed gasp by Brady, the rest was history — Manning and the Giants defeated the 18-0 Patriots.
No. 2: Eli gets knocked down and he gets up again
The 2011 NFC Championship Game (which actually took place in 2012) may have not been Manning’s most efficient passing game, and it wasn’t the most important win of his career, but if you made the case that it belongs as his best individual performance ever — we would sit here and listen. Just like the regular season where they averaged the fewest yards per carry and per game, the Giants’ rushing attack (which averaged 3.2 yards per carry in this game) was nonexistent. The Giants offensive line graded out dead last (No. 32) in pass blocking according to Pro Football Focus in 2011 and it was never more evident than during this game. The combination of those two things allowed a dominant 49ers’ defensive front to live up to the hype and consistently get pressure throughout the game. San Francisco sacked Manning six times in this game and delivered a whopping 12 quarterback hits. No matter how many times Manning got knocked down, he got right back up again, and later in the game, he delivered one of the best touchdown passes of his entire career. On a third-and-15, with the game essentially on the line, Manning held the safety long enough to work back to Mario Manningham. The ball needed to be placed in the perfect spot — in between the cornerback and safety — and it was.
No. 1: Super Bowl XLVI
Manning needed just one more win to cap off what was without a doubt the greatest season (2011) of his career and he was going to have to do it against Belichick’s Patriots with two weeks to prepare for him. As we noted above, the Giants had the single-worst rushing offense in the NFL in 2011, so when Belichick was caught up NFL films telling his defense “this is still a Nicks and Cruz” game it was no surprise. Belichick schemed to take away wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks — the only two consistently awesome offensive players on that 2011 roster that season besides Manning. So it should come as no surprise to us that when Manning needed to dial up a game-changing play, he went to No. 3 wide receiver Mario Manningham.
By Belichick’s own admitted pregame design, Manningham should have been open when Manning attempted what would late go down as the best pass of his career — and in the minds of many — the best pass in Super Bowl history. But he wasn’t. And that’s what makes this throw the best of Manning’s career. It’s true that Manning did his best with his eyes to hold the Cover-2 safety on Manningham’s side of the field, but if Manning’s attempt is even one inch to the right, then the safety breaks it up. If his attempt is one inch to the left, Manningham comes down with it out of bounds. If the pass is thrown with less velocity, then the trailing cornerback breaks it up. None of that happened because Manning delivered a legitimately perfect ball and it traveled nearly 45 yards in the air.
The Giants defeated the Patriots 21-17, but this throw wasn’t the only reason it was Manning’s greatest individual game. The 38-yard completion to Manningham was part of a nine-play, 88-yard touchdown drive Manning led the Giants on after they received the ball trailing by three points with just 3:46 remaining in the fourth quarter. Against a Belichick defense, Manning completed 75 percent of his pass attempts for 296 yards and he did it on 40 passing attempts. He became one of just four quarterbacks in NFL history to complete 75% of more of his passes in a Super Bowl. Manning had the perfect counterpunch to Belichick’s plan to take away the deep passing game with Nicks and Cruz, and when he needed a big play down the field, he dialed it up on the Giants’ final comeback drive.
- 2007 NFC Championship Game: Manning connected over and over with Burress before leading a game-winning field goal drive in overtime to defeat Brett Favre and the Packers.
- 2007 Week 17 game: Manning threw for four touchdowns and came within three points (38-35) of knocking off the 15-0 Patriots. In a game where the Giants had already clinched their playoff seeding, Manning helped put the Patriots to the test like no one else had that regular season.
- 2011 wild-card game: Manning and the Giants dominated the Falcons 24-2. Manning completed 72% of his passes for 277 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. The numbers would’ve been even better, but the Giants took the air out of the ball in the second half with a huge lead.
- 2009 Week 14 game: In a game against the Eagles that would ultimately decide the NFC East, Manning did everything he could to overcome defensive breakdowns and special teams gaffes. This was the best Manning team to never make the playoffs. The Giants lost after a game-sealing Desean Jackson punt return for a touchdown, but Manning completed 71% of his passes for 391 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.