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Eli Manning and the Ghosts of Quarterbacks Past

You can't do more for a team than Eli Manning has done this season

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Dec 14, 2011  |  Updated 11:20 AM EDT
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The Giants have never had it so good at quarterback.

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It has been almost 72 hours since Eli Manning led the Giants to victory in Dallas and it is hard to stop watching highlights of the performance.

Manning was so good that each time you dial up the video you find something else to enjoy about the performance. There's the way he delivers nearly every pass right on target, even when he's forced to throw off his back foot by a Cowboys rush that regularly overwhelmed the left side of the offensive line.

There's the way he consistently dropped balls into the perfect spot despite the Cowboys coverage being well planned and well executed and there's the way he kept his cool while his receivers were dropping wide open passes that Manning put right on his hands.

The Giants would not have won this game without an otherworldly performance from Manning and that's exactly what he gave them.

We shouldn't be too surprised by that at this point in the season. If it wasn't for Manning, the only bit of intrigue about the rest of this Giants season would be who would be coaching them next year because there's no way Tom Coughlin would survive the 5-11 or 6-10 season that would occur with a merely above average Manning at the helm.

Manning's play has been so good that it begs the question of whether or not the Giants have ever had a better season from a quarterback.

The Giants didn't come by their reputation of being a team that beat you with defense and running the ball by accident so there aren't a ton of great contenders for the crown.

The short list includes Charlie Conerly's 1959 season, Y.A. Tittle's work in 1962 and 1963 and Phil Simms' abbreviated 1990 campaign. All were very good, but none of them equal what Manning has done this season.

The Giants advanced to either the championship game or Super Bowl in each of those seasons and the work of their quarterbacks was uniformly excellent. Different eras mean the stats vary pretty wildly for the three players, but they all ranked at the top of the list for what was expected of a quarterback in those days. 

Where Manning passes all of them is in the amount the Giants have had to rely on him in order to win games. Conerly's team had the best defense in football, as did the 1990 Giants and Simms could also rely on one of the league's best run games to help him move the ball.

The running game was not strong either year that Tittle took the Giants to the title game, but he did have a defense that was somewhat respectable. They weren't the best you've ever seen but they were light years better than the group that Manning has to watch on a weekly basis.

In addition to a defense that's giving up points in bunches, Manning also has the league's least effective rushing attack and a poor offensive line to contend with when he takes the field. None of that stops him from putting up huge numbers and, more significantly, victories.

All of those other Giants teams had ways to win if their quarterback had an off day. These Giants have no chance to win most weeks unless Manning does something extraordinary.

That he's done the extraordinary so often makes it easy to say that this is the best year by a quarterback in the history of the franchise.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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