EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J (AP) — It was a familiar scene in the New York Giants’ locker room Wednesday after practice. Reporters and cameramen huddled around the far end of the room, waiting for the starting quarterback to take his weekly turn answering questions from the media.
For the better part of 16 years, that starting quarterback was Eli Manning, the two-time Super Bowl MVP. Except for one game in 2017, Manning took every single snap from the middle of 2004 when he took over from Kurt Warner until this September. Manning stood in front of his locker every single week to handle the barrage of queries with grace and dignity.
After two weeks of the 2019 season, Manning was replaced as starter by rookie Daniel Jones, the first-round draft pick, No. 6 overall. From that point, the media throng belonged to Jones, turning Manning into a $23 million-a-year afterthought.
That scenario changed Wednesday. Jones suffered a high right ankle sprain in Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, an injury that often takes four to six weeks to fully heal.
Before practice, Giants coach Pat Shurmur said Jones was not going to practice and that it was “very likely” Jones would miss Monday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, making Manning the starter once again.
So when Manning weaved his way past the photographers and reporters to get to his locker, someone jokingly asked him, “Who are you?” With that, Manning gave a brief chuckle and smiled.
“It’s all a little different,” Manning said. “I always have to be prepared to go and my job is to make sure that Daniel gets ready. But I knew Daniel was dealing with the injury and I was told that he probably wasn’t going to be able to practice today, that I had to be ready.”
While Jones was on the sideline in a walking boot, Manning took all the snaps with the first unit, just like old times.
“It was business as usual,” said Manning, who quarterbacked the Giants to losses against Dallas and Buffalo this season before Jones took over. “We went over the game plan for Philly and started preparing for them. Obviously, I know them well, so that helped. I just had to get into the mix with the offensive line and the receivers.”
Manning said that he “missed being part of the action.”
“It felt good being out there,” Manning added. “I got out there and was throwing it around.”
“Basically, I feel good,” the 38-year-old Manning said. “I feel fresh and ready to go. I had still been practicing, so I don’t think there was any rust being out. I still have been throwing it accurately. I’m always eager to play. When you’ve been a starter for so long, you get used to playing.”
Jones expressed his disappointment. He knew he was significantly injured after the play Sunday, but didn’t want to say anything to Shurmur or the rest of the coaching staff.
“I want to play, so it’s disappointing when I can’t,” Jones said.
Jones was instructed by team doctors to rest the ankle. He didn’t want to address the time frame for returning; there’s a part of him that believes he could still play Monday night.
“Right now, I’m going to take it day by day and see how it feels,” Jones said. “I still want to be out there, but it hurts. I knew when it happened that it wasn’t the same. I felt it. I want to play if I can, but I do understand what they (the team’s medical staff) say. It’s my job now to get healthy and get back out there.”
Shurmur expects Manning “to go out there and have a winning performance” even if the Giants have lost eight straight games with Jones at the helm.
“I’m not going to worry about it,” Shurmur said. “Why worry about things when you don’t have to? I expect Eli is going to be ready to play. He was very eager to get out there today. He said, ‘Let’s go,’ and was ready to go. But Eli’s been ready to go if he had to go for the last 10 weeks.”
For now, something old is new again — at least until Jones can prove he’s healthy enough to play.
“I have to listen to the doctors and the trainers,” Jones said. “I know it takes time to heal. It’s just tough to tell how long.”