The Giants (5-9) did not covet April’s five first-round-worthy quarterbacks, Darnold included, because they believed they could win again with Manning.
There is no doubt that Saquon Barkley, the player they took No. 2 overall, is special.
But on Sunday, less than 24 hours after the young Darnold flashed more promise in a loss to the Houston Texans, Manning’s Odell Beckham-less offense bowed out meekly in a rainy 17-0 loss to the Tennessee Titans to seal the franchise’s sixth losing season in seven years.
“We didn’t play well enough early in the year to put ourselves in a good position,” Manning said, referring to the Giants’ 1-7 start. “I knew we still had a chance if we won out, but we didn’t play well enough today to do that.”
Barkley managed just 31 rushing yards, his second-lowest total of the season. But most glaringly, trailing just 7-0 at halftime, Manning threw an interception in field goal range on the first possession of the third quarter and then fumbled on the next possession inside the Giants’ own 20-yard line.
Titans former Heisman winner Derrick Henry (33 carries, 170 yards, two TDs) punched in his second touchdown to put Tennessee up 14-0, and the referees really could have called the game right then and there with almost 18 minutes remaining.
“Obviously you don’t want to throw an interception,” Shurmur said of Manning’s pick to Titans safety Kevin Byard.
Beckham wasn’t available this time, like he was two weeks ago in an upset win over the Chicago Bears, to throw a touchdown pass and bail out the offense.
The Giants also surrendered three sacks, dropped a handful of passes, and committed 10 penalties as a team. So Manning wasn’t the only problem.
But even Manning, who had just 162 passing yards and two turnovers before padding his stats on a meaningless late drive, admitted to several poor throws and decisions.
His worst was an overthrown screen pass intended for Evan Engram that might have gone for an 82-yard touchdown but instead fell incomplete.
“That’s an easy throw,” Manning said. “I’ve got to hit that.”
A Titans (8-6) shutout win is rare: Tennessee hadn’t shut out an opponent since the Dallas Cowboys on Christmas Day of the year 2000.
But Giants shutout losses aren’t as unusual lately: They also were shut out last season, 23-0, in Arizona on Christmas Eve under interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
Pat Shurmur’s Giants showed resolve after the Week 9 bye, winning four of five games to stay alive into Week 15. But this team isn’t good enough, its quarterback included.
That hasn’t stopped the momentum of the ‘Bring Eli Back’ bandwagon, which manifested Sunday in national reports and opinions of Manning not only returning for 2019 but possibly even staying past his current contract.
“I think it’s an absolute guarantee that Eli Manning will be the starter for the Giants next year,” two-time Giants Super Bowl winner Phil Simms said on CBS. “In the draft, they’re not going to get anybody. And I think he’ll be there not only next year; but I think he has a chance to start in 2020.”
And being here in 2020 would require a contract extension, which truly would win some kind of award for thick-headedness on the part of management and ownership.
Then again, the Giants cut Davis Webb, the quarterback they drafted in the third round two years ago; they passed on all the first-round QBs last April; and they drafted Kyle Lauletta in the fourth-round. And they couldn’t put him back in street-clothes fast enough Sunday after his 0-for-5 with an interception debut in Washington last week.
So the party line has become: of course you bring Manning back, because what better options do you have?
Well, as Darnold demonstrated Saturday night, there are other humans who play quarterback and play it well. It just takes the ability to properly scout them and recognition of when it’s time.