EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For the past 11 weeks, as rookie Daniel Jones has taken over the spotlight as the starting quarterback of the New York Giants, Eli Manning has been running the scout team at practice. As the backup quarterback, Manning played in the style of opposing quarterbacks to prepare the Giants defense for what they will face on game day.
This week, Manning got to be himself again.
Manning, 38, was benched in Week 3 after the Giants (2-10) lost the first two games of the season. At the time, it seemed likely that Manning’s storied Giants career was coming to an end. But now Jones is sidelined with a high-ankle sprain, and Manning will likely get at least one more shot, Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles (5-7).
“He’s a legend,” running back Saquon Barkley said. He added: “The way he operated in practice, the way he operated in the building was the same Eli that we know. Good to see him come out this week and get a chance. It’s going to be awesome for him.”
Jones was injured in the second quarter of the Giants’ loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. He played the entire game, but after an MRI exam Monday he was in a walking boot and was on the sidelines at practice during the week, biking and stretching.
“It’s pretty disappointing, especially after thinking I was going to be able to play,” Jones told reporters Wednesday. “I understand it, I guess, and hopefully it’ll heal up pretty quickly.”
Last spring, the Giants drafted Jones, 22, sixth overall, and the expectation was that he would succeed Manning quickly. Jones made his first start against Tampa Bay on Sept. 22, when he led the Giants to a 32-31 comeback win. Jones has thrown for 18 touchdowns and has averaged 235.7 yards in his 10 starts.
Manning’s legacy with the Giants is already secure, despite his not being on the field for most of the season. He had been the face of the franchise since he was drafted in 2004, and he led the Giants to Super Bowl victories in the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
Serving as a backup is new for Manning, who until this year had only been benched once — in 2017, for Geno Smith — since becoming a starter midway through his rookie season. He made 210 consecutive starts from Nov. 21, 2004, to Nov. 23, 2017, the second most by a quarterback.
“It is difficult,” Manning said of not playing. “Especially when you’ve been the starter for so long and you’re not really accustomed to preparing and preparing and not putting it to use.”
Manning has been mentoring Jones, and he has old notes about opposing teams’ defenses that he has shared. “He’s watching a lot of things with me and trying to take me through a lot of different things,” Jones said.
The Giants are on an eight-game losing streak, something Manning is familiar with. The team had a six-game losing streak during Manning’s rookie season, and he advised Jones to remain focused on his preparation and not to let a mistake carry over into the next play.
“He makes a lot of great plays, and I think he’s doing everything to get prepared and make progress each week,” Manning said. “I’ve just been impressed with his work ethic and the dedication he has put towards getting ready to play each week.”
There is no timetable for Jones to return, but coach Pat Shurmur said that Jones will be the starter when he is cleared. Manning is in the final year of his contract, and it is expected that the Giants will not re-sign him. He has not revealed if he wants to continue playing after this season.
“You never want to try to make decisions about your future while you’re still living in the present and don’t know the circumstances of what could happen,” Manning said. “I’ll analyze everything else after the season.”