sistaff
Monday October 17th, 2011

Corey Webster's interception came on an underthrown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick. (AP)

Whether it's right or wrong, Giants fans have come to expect big mistakes from Eli Manning. The 25 interceptions he threw in 2010 -- not to mention the 118 interceptions he has in his career -- have definitely helped push the needle further in that direction.

Manning played right into those expectations in Week 5, throwing three interceptions against an average-at-best Seattle team. The last came with the Giants in position to win the game, with Manning's pass bouncing off the hands of Victor Cruz and into the arms of Brandon Browner.

It wasn't really Manning's fault. But in the stat book, the play went down as another Manning turnover.

The script changed Sunday. Manning threw for 292 yards on 21-of-32 passing and, more importantly, no interceptions. His QB counterpart, Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick, made the game's biggest blunder.

With the Bills and Giants tied at 24 under the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick killed a Buffalo drive that seemed destined for points by tossing a pick. The Bills already were in field-goal range when Fitzpatrick tried to go deep for Stevie Johnson.

Instead, he underthrew his target and Corey Webster jumped it.

Manning's offense -- with a huge assist from Ahmad Bradshaw -- then marched all the way to Buffalo's 1 before settling for a field goal. Fitzpatrick had one more chance to atone for his mistake. The Bills never got off the ground, turning it over on downs.

Bradshaw's day marked a noticeable difference from the Giants' frustrating Week 5 loss. Against the Seahawks, New York's No. 1 running back had just 58 yards rushing on 17 carries; Sunday, he put up 104 yards -- including a 30-yarder on the Giants' final drive -- and found the end zone three times.

There's no doubt that a performance like that makes Manning's job easier.

And Manning made it look pretty easy Sunday. His afternoon could have been even better if Mario Manningham had been able to hold onto a deep pass. Manningham looked like he had a touchdown catch but lost the ball at the last second, taking points off the board.

The Giants came into this season banged-up and appeared to have a major uphill battle to contend in the NFC East. Yet, six weeks into the season, they're right there at the top.

Manning playing like he did against Buffalo would help keep them there. For whatever reason, the Giants rarely enter the discussion when the topic is the best offenses in the league. Look up and down that roster when it's healthy, though: Manning, Bradshaw, Manningham, Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Jacobs (who didn't play Sunday), Victor Cruz, underrated TE Jake Ballard.

There are playmakers everywhere. Too many times the Giants have been their own worst enemy, with Manning the leading culprit. Just staying within the game plan and avoiding those catastrophic mistakes turns New York's attack from a good one to a potentially great one.

Buffalo's offense has not been too shabby this year, either, which is why the Bills had four wins on the board heading into Sunday. Fitzpatrick's mistakes were too much to overcome -- his late interception was the second one he threw on the day, the first coming with Buffalo near midfield late in the third quarter.

The Bills QB, though, won't return home with the fans calling for his head. Manning doesn't have the luxury of toiling away in that atmosphere.

Every single week, he's under the gun, and that's despite bringing a Super Bowl title back to New York. The championship, if anything, raised the bar. It was never acceptable for Giants fans that Manning be decent -- they've demanded greatness from Day One.

But the Super Bowl run and days like Sunday show why -- when Manning is on his game, and his receivers and running backs are helping him out, he can play closer to the elite quarterback he describes himself as.

Against Buffalo, Manning did not do anything incredible or win it on his own. He simply did not lose. He let Fitzpatrick carry that onus.

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