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Manning's juvenile act gets old

January 04, 2007|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

One quarterback is hot, the other is not.

As solid as Jeff Garcia's play has been down the stretch for the Philadelphia Eagles, Eli Manning has been that erratic for the New York Giants.

The teams meet at Philadelphia in an NFC wild-card game Sunday.

Last season, Manning took the NFL by storm, breaking free from older brother Peyton's shadow and leading the Giants into the playoffs.

But this season, Manning has been knocked around and often plays with the look of a boy in need of his blanket.

Manning plays quarterback like a streak-shooting basketball player looking to find his range from game to game. When things are going well for the Giants' offense, thanks to a big run by Tiki Barber or an acrobatic catch by Plaxico Burress, Manning looks good. He takes the field with a sense of cockiness and leads the offense like a veteran.

It's a different story for Manning when New York's offense is struggling. He mopes around from play to play and fails to do anything with confidence. Manning's mechanics fall apart and that leads to passes sailing high and throws into the ground.

After playing Philadelphia twice during the regular season, including a loss to the Eagles in New York on Dec. 17, Manning should be ready for the multiple looks and blitzes used by defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

New York's best bet is to get Manning on the move with rollouts and bootleg plays that feature Barber and Burress. That should allow Manning to complete safe passes to his best receivers against the Eagles' pressure defense.

If the Giants can get that done, Manning may play like he did at his best last season.

But if the Giants fail to build Manning's confidence in the early going, they better make sure he has a blanket ready after the game.

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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