Giants first home win of season is special for aging Eli Manning

The victory hug and kiss were a long time coming for Eli Manning.

As the weeks have gone by and the Giants transitioned from disappointing to embarrassing and positioned themselves to perhaps draft Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen in April, the pained look on Manning’s face became one of the images of the season.

The Giants were in a freefall and the two-time Super Bowl MVP was helpless to do anything about it.

That’s why there was a little hop in his step as he walked to where his wife, Abby, and their oldest daughter, Ava were waiting for him in a corridor not far from the Giants locker room late Sunday afternoon. He leaned down to give Ava a hug and turned and gave Abby a kiss as they left MetLife Stadium together.

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New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) celebrates with quarterback Eli Manning (10) after scoring a touchdown against the Lions during the second half at MetLife Stadium.

(Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) leaves the field after the game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

New York Giants Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) looks on during a National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 22, 2016, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. The Eagles won 24-19.

(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) prior to the game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford,NJ.

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New York Giants running back Paul Perkins (28) rushes the ball against the Washington Redskins during the first half at FedEx Field.

(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) catches a pass during warm-ups prior to the Giants' game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. The Giants won 19-10.

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) fumbles after being hit by New York Giants linebacker Devon Kennard (59) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium.

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Outside linebacker Devon Kennard #59 of the New York Giants reacts after sacking quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins (not pictured) while tackle Morgan Moses #76 of the Washington Redskins looks on in the third quarter at FedExField on January 1, 2017 in Landover, Maryland.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Running back Paul Perkins #28 of the New York Giants carries the ball against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedExField on January 1, 2017 in Landover, Maryland.

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

New York Giants Wide Receiver Sterling Shepard (87) runs the ball during a National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 22, 2016, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. The Eagles won 24-19.

(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New York Giants Center Weston Richburg (70) gets ready to snap the ball during a National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 22, 2016, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. The Eagles won 24-19.

(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New York Giants Wide Receiver Dwayne Harris (17) runs the ball during a National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 22, 2016, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. The Eagles won 24-19.

(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Robbie Gould #5 of the New York Giants kicks a field goal against the Philadelphia Eagles during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won 24-19. The Eagles won 24-19.

(Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

New York Giants tight end Will Tye (45) celebrates scoring a touchdown in the second half with teammate Ereck Flowers (74) at MetLife Stadium.

(Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

New York Giants safety Landon Collins (21) reacts after making a game-ending interception against the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium.

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Brett Jones #69 of the New York Giants looks on while stretching before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won 24-19. The Eagles won 24-19.

(Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

New York Giants tight end Jerell Adams (89) catches a touchdown pass from New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) (not shown) during the first half of their game against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium.

(Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports)

New York Giants wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) runs the ball against Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium.

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants and his teamates enter the field before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Victor Cruz #80 and Paul Perkins #28, both of the New York Giants, pray under the stadium before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won 24-19. The Eagles won 24-19.

(Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

Eli Manning #10 talks with Josh Johnson #8, both of the New York Giants, before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won 24-19. The Eagles won 24-19.

(Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

New York Giants defensive end Romeo Okwara (78) looks on during the game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 22, 2016 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia PA.

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New York Giants tight end Will Tye (45) looks on during the game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 22, 2016 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia PA.

(Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New York Giants defensive end Romeo Okwara (78) warms up before the game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 22, 2016 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia PA.

(Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New York Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle (82) celebrates with wide receiver Myles White (19) after scoring a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. The Eagles won 35-30.

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) blocks Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) pass during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. Carolina Panthers defeat the New York Giants 38-35.

(Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports)

New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings (23) celebrates with wide receiver Roger Lewis (82) and tight end Will Tye (45) after scoring on a 2 yard touchdown in the second quarter during an NFL game between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins on January 1, 2017, at FedExField in Landover, MD.

(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New York Giants Wide Receiver Roger Lewis (82) runs with the ball in warm ups during the NFL Football game between the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 4, 2016, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA.

(Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Manning has been to the playoffs only six times in his career, so he’s been through some tough times. Considering the Super Bowl expectations this season, this year may be the worst.

“It’s not easy,” Manning told the Daily News a few feet from where he met up with his family. “It’s difficult to go through losing streaks and having a tough record. You just tell yourself to keep preparing, keep doing everything right, keep the energy high, be excited about the next opportunity and make sure my demeanor, my emotions are being positive. We’ve got some new guys, young guys got to step up, and make sure they know I am excited about their opportunity.”

It had been exactly 11 months since the Giants’ last home victory. Even though the 12-9 slugfest overtime win against the Chiefs may ultimately do them more harm than good because it damages their draft position, it was clear from the locker room excitement how desperately the Giants needed a win, their first in five home games in a 2-8 season.

Manning threw for 205 yards and didn’t throw an interception — Alex Smith tossed a pair of picks and a third one was overturned by a penalty — as he managed the wind perfectly. But here’s the situation in which Manning finds himself less than two months from his 37th birthday and finishing up his 14th season: GM Jerry Reese was in Los Angeles on Saturday night at the UCLA-USC game scouting Darnold and Rosen.

The Giants right now own the third pick in the draft with the Browns first and 49ers second. There’s a very good chance if Darnold (questionable) and Rosen (likely) enter the draft, the Giants could get one of them. Or they could decide that Davis Webb, their third-round pick this year, has shown enough in practice and perhaps will show enough if they get him into a few games in December, to pass on a QB in April.

Either way, the sand is quickly leaving the Manning hourglass. Unless he borrows some of Tom Brady’s avocado ice cream, the phasing out of Manning is not far away. If Manning is concerned about his future, he’s never going to say.

“The great part about football is having a great week of preparation and then going out on Sunday and finding ways to win games and celebrating with your teammates,” he said.

I’ve been in a lot of winning locker rooms over the years. The Giants were by far the happiest team that has lost eight out of 10 games. This season has been a drag. It has Ben McAdoo and Reese barely hanging onto their jobs and Manning hearing more than whispers that the end of his Giants career is approaching.

That’s why it was a special moment for Manning when McAdoo called him up to the middle of the locker room to address his teammates after he led the winning overtime drive to beat Kansas City. When McAdoo mentioned Manning’s name, the rest of the players went wild.

“Let’s go, hey. Enjoy it babe,” Manning said. “We got to keep it going, man. We’ve been working hard. We deserved this win. We deserve to feel this good. We have another one on Thursday. Let’s feel good on Thanksgiving, all right?”

Manning moved past brother Peyton with his 209th consecutive regular-season start, the second most for a quarterback in NFL history behind Brett Favre’s 297, which is completely out of reach unless Eli can play and start another five years. He also led his 35th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime when he drove the Giants 77 yards for the winning field goal.

He made the biggest play of the Giants’ season – sorry, not a lot of candidates – on a fourth and 5 from the Chiefs 36 with 2:12 left in overtime. It was too windy and too far to attempt a field goal. If the Giants were in the playoff race, McAdoo might have played it safe and punted.

But with one victory, he had nothing to lose. That’s the way he coached all day with a fake punt (it worked) by Nat Berhe and a halfback option pass by Shane Vereen (the first of his career and the last, according to Manning) that was intercepted.

The Chiefs came after Manning with an all-out blitz on fourth down on the Giants only OT drive. Eli spotted Roger Lewis on the outside with man-to-man coverage and lofted a pass deep down the left sideline. It was a low-percentage throw with a high percentage of drawing pass interference. Not only did Lewis get a PI flag on cornerback Phillip Gaines, he made a sprawling catch at the Chiefs’ 2. It appeared replay might turn that into a TD after Lewis made it into the end zone, but Gaines touched him down when Lewis was rolling on the ground.

Manning played without his three best receivers, but at least for one day, he made the others around him – Lewis, Tavarres King and Travis Rudolph – much better players.

Reese was there to see Rosen outplay Darnold, but each played well enough to inspire confidence they have big NFL futures ahead. The good news for Manning is that Reese took the redeye home from L.A. and was at MetLife to see him lead the Giants to a desperately needed win.

That was enough to make Manning a happy man as he greeted his family.

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