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Eli Manning Hits 30 at a Career Crossroad

One turnover for every candle on his birthday cake

By Josh Alper
|  Tuesday, Jan 4, 2011  |  Updated 11:00 AM EDT
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When people turn 30, they often take a moment to step back for a little analysis of where their life has taken them and where they want it to go.

Timing is funny sometimes, because Eli Manning was probably going to be doing that on Monday even if it wasn't the day he got half-off his pizza at Chuck E. Cheese. It's now been three years since he entered the pantheon of Super Bowl winners and two years since he's led his team to the postseason, all of which would be enough to lead to some stock taking. Throw in the 30 turnovers -- 25 interceptions plus five fumbles -- he committed this season, though, and you've got even more reason for soul searching after blowing out the birthday candles.

Manning stood up and faced the music on Monday. For the most part, he did what a quarterback and a leader is supposed to do. He took responsibility for the outsize role his inability to hold onto the ball had on the Giants' failure to make the postseason, and only threw a little bit of the blame on his teammates.

"I need to get better. I am not a 25-interception quarterback," Manning said. "I think, honestly, that has got to be changed, we've got to fix that. That's on me and the receivers and everybody doing that. Most of it's on me."

That's a lot better than his apologists around the team and the media who threw his offensive line and receivers under the bus every chance they got. Yes, there were injuries in both places, but the pass blocking actually got better as the season went along and good quarterbacks around the league succeed with far worse revolving doors at receiver. General manager Jerry Reese soft-pedaled the issues by saying that Manning tried to do too much, which is a familiar (and incrdibly dishonest) refrain that gets to the heart of the problem with Manning right now.

Manning didn't try to do too much. He tried to do what his team needed him to do in order to succeed. He was unsuccessful in that pursuit. People keep acting like this year's turnover problems came out of left field, but he had 22 turnovers in 2009 and 27 turnovers in 2007. There's only been one season, 2008 obviously, where Manning didn't give the ball up too much.

It doesn't mean he's a bad quarterback. Drew Brees threw 21 picks this season and Eli's older brother had a disgusting run around midseason, to name two guys better than Eli who prove that no one is flawless. Eli is perfectly capable of running a winning team, but there needs to be some honesty about his shortcomings if the team is going to be that winning team again in the future.

That's why it was interesting to see Justin Tuck and other members of the Giants chatting about Plaxico Burress while Eli was throwing himself on his sword. Plax is getting out of prison in June, which could mean he gets a look during the offseason from the Giants. Assuming he's still got his physical skills, there have been worse ideas. 

Much was made of how many interceptions were tipped by Manning's receivers this season, but not all tips are created equal. There were straight drops, but there were also high passes that bounced off fingertips. Those would be great catches, but the fact that they weren't doesn't absolve Manning of his role in creating them. Burress was a guy capable of making those catches and made Manning look good by getting to balls that were simply thrown up for grabs.

Eli still throws too many of those balls, especially in the red zone, but the Giants don't come up with them all that often. That's one obvious place for improvement. Another is a veteran backup and/or a quarterback coach who has actually worked with quarterbacks in the past. Mike Sullivan hadn't before getting the job and hasn't been able to reel in his wayward charge.

The Giants have been all about the status quo for the last two years, but they can't accept more of the same from Manning next season.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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