Eli Manning was excellent on Monday night against the Dolphins as the Giants earned a key win to put them in a three-way tie atop the NFC East.
The Giants QB completed 27 of 31 passes for a completion percentage of 87.1, the highest single-game mark of his career. He threw for 337 yards and four TDs (and no interceptions), including two clutch scoring strikes to the incredible Odell Beckham Jr., as New York kept pace in the NFC East race with a 31–24 win.
“[Manning] is a veteran, championship quarterback,” Miami interim coach Dan Campbell said.
Statistics can be misleading, especially when it comes to something like a completion rate. But that was not the case here. Manning finished the first quarter 6 of 6 and never slowed down, picking apart a winded Miami defense for a crucial win.
“He played superbly tonight,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “I had a good feeling that he would. He had a nice week in practice, he again was in command of everything out there. The big plays to Odell ... we thought we had another one early on, the pressure kept him from being able to launch the ball the way he wanted to. But otherwise, he was well in control. He played outstanding.”
Having Beckham at his side affords Manning a unique luxury. The wide receiver was a complete mismatch for former Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes, who at 32 continues to drift further and further from his prime. His biggest play of the night, though, came with Jamar Taylor on him.
With the game tied at 24 in the fourth quarter, and the Giants backed up inside their own 20, Beckham ran a picturesque slant-and-go route. Taylor handed coverage off to safety Reshad Jones, who jumped Beckham's inside cut. Beckham just flew by him to run underneath an arching pass from Manning, then raced to the end zone without any issue.
As usual, Beckham also provided a highlight-reel gra. He helped tie the game at 24 by somehow toe-dragging in the end zone for a brilliant catch.
But this also was about more than just Manning, and it was certainly about more than Beckham's second-half explosion. The Giants managed to keep the passing game open by stubbornly committing to the run, even when it wasn't working early. The result as of the third quarter was a gassed Dolphins defense, featuring a punchless front that could not agitate Manning in the pocket.
Rashad Jennings finished the game with 81 yards rushing on 22 carries, many of those attempts in tough situations. To wit: On the play prior to Beckham's 84-yarder, Jennings burst up the middle to gain a first down and clear the Giants of their own goal line.
“We knew we had to [get the run game going],” Manning told the NFL Network. “They were playing a lot of shell coverage, trying to take away Odell, trying to make us hold the ball. But we ran the ball well, and that set [the big plays] up.”
The Giants actually won in a manner fitting of Campbell's vision for the Dolphins: hard-nosed and aggressive for 60 minutes.
They easily could have wilted in the Florida heat, just like the home team seemed to. Instead, the Giants finished the game by scoring 14 points, and with their maligned defense delivering four straight stops. Even Coughlin himself shook off a punishing hit along the sideline from one of his cornerbacks, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who went flying into his head coach while trying to make a tackle.
To anyone watching, it's obvious that—save for Manning and Beckham—this is far from the most talented Giants team Coughlin has had. Yet, after a mid-December win on the road, they're back tied for first place in the NFC East.
“Our guys have hung in there,” Coughlin said. “They've taken all the shots from the outside, continued to work hard and believed that they cold win.”
Was this a high point or a starting point? That's the question the Giants now have to answer. They host undefeated Carolina next Sunday (having lost to New England earlier in the year), then visit Minnesota in Week 16. A Week 17 finale vs. Philadelphia could be for the division crown ... or it could be relatively meaningless, depending on what happens between now and then.
It's tough to write off the Giants when Manning plays like he did Monday, but the standard-setting outing came on the heels of two tough performances in a row. The Giants carried a three-game losing streak into Miami, too, and have not won two straight since a 3–0 stretch from Sept. 24-Oct. 11.
The defense is still a mess, despite helping to close out the win over Miami. Had Ryan Tannehill not overthrown a streaking Jarvis Landry with five minutes left, the game might have been 31-all. On the Dolphins' previous possession, TE Jordan Cameron let a completion into the red zone slip through his fingers, with a little help from Giants safety Craig Dahl.
In other words, the Giants have very little margin for error. Their remaining schedule is working against them, as is their 32nd-ranked defense and a roster that's shy on talent in general.
For Monday night's win to mean anything, the Giants must parlay it into at least a couple of wins over the next three weeks. They'll have to be almost perfect for that to happen.
Manning already was there against Miami.