Last Sunday featured two close, competitive, and exciting ballgames in the NFL. In the NFC Championship game, the New York Giants persevered in a great ballgame that was loaded with missed opportunities and mistakes and stupid weather conditions to defeat the Green Bay Packers. The New England Patriots took their record to 18-0 with a victory over a talented San Diego Chargers team.

Both games were obviously important for the teams that participated, but both games also featured two players that in the biggest games of their lives may have had the “defining moments” of their careers thus far. Each player’s “moment” was at different ends of the spectrum though.

Eli Manning came into the league out of Ole Miss with unrealistic expectations. He was immediately compared to his brother Peyton. Peyton was used as a benchmark to gage how Eli was progressing in the league. It is unfair to Eli, but honestly, he was not playing like the number 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft until this year’s playoffs. Manning has always possessed the ability to throw a great deep ball, but he has been extremely inconsistent throughout the course of his career. He will show flashes from time to time, but that’s about it. The criticism is ratcheted up when you consider that he has had very good talent around him at both receiver spots, at tight end and in the backfield.

During this playoffs Eli hasn’t torn up the NFC with three 300 yard games. Instead, he has been efficient and has displayed good decision making. Manning has thrown four touchdowns and zero interceptions this postseason. He has also been without his starting tight end Jeremy Shockey. In the most important game of the season, in Green Bay, he made several crucial plays. He actually outplayed the “invincible” Brett Favre. Manning, along with former Spartan Plaxico Burress made Al Harris look like an ordinary cornerback. Manning repeatedly placed the ball in spots where only his receivers could make the catch. This postseason will do wonders for his confidence and it will carry over into next season.

On the negative side, the best running back in the NFL surely did not look like it. LaDainian Tomlinson has accomplished a great deal in this league, but the way in which Tomlinson conducted himself on Sunday was not admirable. People call him LT, but I don’t think that he deserves to be called that after what the original LT did during his playing days. He had a sprained MCL, and only played a few plays in the biggest game of his career. In those plays he did not even run with a limp. Many people, including myself felt as if Tomlinson could’ve and should’ve tried to tough it out. The situation was made even worse when you look at what Tomlinson’s teammates did. Phillip Rivers had surgery the week of the game, and played with a slightly torn ACL. Detroit native Antonio Gates dislocated his big toe and played the entire game. All week we kept hearing that Tomlinson was ready to go, and that the other two Chargers were in worse shape than him, but Tomlinson is the one who failed to play past the first quarter.

If Tomlinson was truly injured, he should have conducted himself differently on the sideline. He sat on the bench draped up with his helmet on. It looked to me that he was sort of ashamed. He didn’t move one inch from that spot on the bench. If he is the all-time great player and leader that many people say he is, he would’ve at least offered some type of encouragement to his teammates, or some input as to what he saw going on in the game. Walter Payton would’ve handled the situation differently; Jim Brown would’ve handled the situation differently. Emmitt Smith played with serious injuries all the time. Barry Sanders played one way all the time, and he wasn’t fortunate enough to play with a quarterback with this level of toughness or a defense that had loads of Pro Bowlers. Sanders had to play with a quarterback that had to be taken out of the stadium on a stretcher because of what he called a slight concussion in a playoff game in Philadelphia.Â

I may be wrong, but I think that Tomlinson kind of took this game for granted. In today’s NFL, your team can be a title contender one year, and then win four games the next.  You must take advantage of any opportunity that you get, and Eli Manning did just that. Maybe Tomlinson will take advantage of his next opportunity, if he gets one.

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