Pitoniak: Eli Among Best Clutch QBs Ever

                I'll be honest with you. I thought Eli Manning was a very good, but not great NFL quarterback heading into this season. And, like many, I scoffed when I heard him say during training camp that he belonged on the short list of elite QBs that included Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Eli's older brother, Peyton.

                Well, I'm not scoffing any more.

                Eating crow might be more like it.

                See, Eli's not merely coming, as the old song said.

                He's arrived - among the elite not merely of his time but of all-time when it comes to clutch performers in big games.

                The folks in Canton might as well start sculpting his Pro Football Hall of Fame bust, so it'll be ready once he hangs up his helmet and pads down the road. And while they're at it, they might also want to get one ready for Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who added a second Lombardi Trophy to his collection with last night's dramatic 21-17 victory against the slightly favored New England Patriots.

                So tell me if you've heard this one before.

                Three minutes and 46 seconds to go. The Giants are trailing by two points and have the ball on their own 12 with just one timeout remaining.

                Eli, looking as cool as Joe Montana in his prime, deftly completes five-of-six passes for 74 yards while leading the Giants on the drive that was capped - perhaps a tad too soon - by Ahmad Bradshaw's six-yard touchdown run. The march included a laser throw by Manning and a magnificent catch by Mario Manningham for a 38-yard gain. The grab over two defenders along the sidelines was reminiscent of the helmet reception David Tyree made in the Giants come-from-behind Super Bowl victory against the Patriots four years ago.

                Eli was voted the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player for a second time after completing 30-of-40 passes for 296 yards and one score. He didn't throw any picks.

                It marked his seventh fourth-quarter comeback this season, meaning more than half of the Giants 13 wins came down to Manning time. He now has five fourth-quarter post-season comebacks to go with the 20 he's engineered in the regular season. It also was his eighth win in his past nine post-season games, and extended his post-season road win streak to an NFL record seven straight.

                Talk about saving your best for last.

                He clearly was aided by his talented corps of big-play receivers. Manningham finished with five receptions for 73 yards, while Hakeem Nicks had 10 grabs for 109 yards.

                And he also was aided by the Giants defense, which staved off a last-ditch attempt by Brady, who finished 27-for-41 for 276 yards and two scores. He was intercepted once, and was called for a safety on a desperation throw from the end zone.

                New York had a chance to run the clock down to a few seconds and kick a chip-shot field goal to win the game. But rather than fall down at the Patriots one, Bradshaw opted to score with 57 seconds remaining, meaning Brady would have several shots at answering Manning's clutch drive with one of his own.

                Manning and his mates couldn't exhale until Brady's Hail Mary into the end zone was batted away from Aaron Hernandez as time expired.

                Had he connected on that prayer he would have been exalted as the greatest quarterback in the game's history and Bill Belichick would have been anointed as the top coach. But they were denied a fourth Super Bowl ring, in large part because of Manning.

                It's been well documented that Giants fans had soured on Manning and his coach when it appeared New York was going to miss out on the playoffs. The tabloids wanted Coughlin's head on a platter.

                But six weeks later, Manning and Coughlin are the toast of the Big Apple once more.

                Their places in history will one day be immortalized in bronze.               

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