Manning Steadies Shaky Giants in Win Over Dolphins

It is hard to look good when things around you are going bad. It is harder still when you are the brains and emotional rudder of the enterprise and little seems to be going as planned. It is most difficult of all when devastating failure is imminent. If you do not quickly reverse the course and the outcome, you are likely to be blamed for the whole mess afterward.

The next time ’s worth, or rank, among N.F.L. quarterbacks is debated, games like the Giants’ desultory victory over the on Sunday should be recalled. Not just because Manning provided sparkle to a dreadful game, but also because of the perseverance he showed as his brethren offered so little help.

Throughout the second half, the Giants’ slapdash offense — absent the running game that has historically been its ballast — was one turnover or another notable mistake from liberating the Dolphins from their winless state. The only player keeping the discombobulated Giants together was Manning. He winced after dropped passes and after missed blocks left him flat on his back, but he also recovered to steady the offense and to summon glimpses of brilliance.

Manning threw for 2 touchdowns and 19 of the 21 first downs the Giants produced in the game, and for the fourth time in seven games this season did not throw an interception. He also created the winning play — a 25-yard pass to Victor Cruz — with a crafty little slide step and throw on the run.

It is the kind of play Manning does routinely now, and largely without notice. As the Giants have alternatively surged and lurched to an undefined 5-2 record, almost entirely unobserved in their meandering march has been Manning’s consistently stellar play. Completing 31 of 45 passes for 349 yards on Sunday, Manning has now completed 64.7 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and 5 interceptions this season. He has a quarterback rating of 102.1 and his 2,127 passing yards have him on pace to throw for nearly 5,000 yards.

“He told you all that he was an elite quarterback,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, referring to Manning’s comments in August that he thought of himself as one the league’s best quarterbacks. “I feel like he’s proving that right now.”

Outside the Giants’ locker room, not many would rank Manning with Tom Brady or any top-five N.F.L. quarterback, but that may be missing the point. If the subject is the Giants’ chances of making the playoffs, Manning is foremost in the discussion, a factor without peer. Right now, with running back Brandon Jacobs increasingly uninvolved and Ahmad Bradshaw the focus of special attention from opponents, Manning not only sits at the helm, he is the engine driving the Giants forward.

“Because he’s not loud or fiery, people think he doesn’t lead, but that’s just being short-sighted,” guard Chris Snee said. “We get a lot of confidence from him, from knowing that if we give him time to make his reads and see the field, good things will happen. His cool and his calmness — it has a lot of impact on the whole team.”

On the field, Manning often does not look cool or calm. Television close-ups of his face after adverse results sometimes reveal an odd, confounded expression, like a school kid surprised by a teacher’s question. But during his eight seasons in New York, that same look has surfaced in the most harmless situations — at training camp practices, when approached by fans or asked to accept awards. It may be just the way he looks sometimes, rather than a meaningful window into his manner or mettle.

Against the Dolphins, Manning repeatedly found himself under hardship, and what turned the game was his response. Several of his throws were dropped. When he completed a pass at the end of the hardest, most dangerous pattern a quarterback can face — a long, 20-yard out to the sideline — it was nullified by a penalty. Other Giants penalties stalled drives. Bradshaw was injured. Through it all, Manning rallied.

He found Mario Manningham in the corner of the end zone with a perfect throw just before the end of the first half to trim the Dolphins’ lead to 14-10. And near the end of the game, after Manningham could not come up with the catch after another perfect throw, Manning, on the very next play, found Cruz over the middle for the clinching touchdown.

Maybe most important of all, he did not force passes or risk a turnover at the end of two other drives near the Miami end zone — one at the end of the first quarter and another at the start of the fourth quarter. The Giants prudently came away with a field goal each time. A touchdown might have been the goal, but in each case, a field goal kept the Giants moving forward.

In that way, while disappointment was a recurring theme of Manning’s day, so was a developing, perhaps trademark, resolve.

“I think finding ways to keep a winning attitude is something we’ve learned to do,” he said.

The use of a team frame of reference, not a personal one, colors most of Manning’s speech.

“There are going to be dropped balls and little things that go wrong,” he added. “Mistakes are going to happen. We’ve learned the power of a good attitude.”

The attitude comes from the man who has the ball in his hands to start nearly every play. Even when things are going bad, so far at least, Manning has been able to make the Giants look (almost) good.

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