EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants have been making mistakes all season. They might have made their biggest one in how they handled the benching of two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning after 13 seasons.
Giants co-owner John Mara on Wednesday admitted there had to be a better way to inform Manning this week that his playing time was being cut after 210 consecutive starts. But he was at a loss to know what it was.
Speaking for the first time since coach Ben McAdoo announced Tuesday that Geno Smith would start against Oakland, Mara said that he made a couple of mistakes in handling the situation.
Not being at the team’s headquarters Tuesday when Manning was devastated by the decision topped the list. He met with Manning in his office on Wednesday morning and had a very emotional talk, adding Manning was not happy with the decision but understood it.
“He’s a special player, and a special person,” Mara said of Manning. “When you see him get that emotional, it’s tough. The thing about him is, to a lot of players, this is just another team, another franchise. But to him, it means something to be a New York Giant.”
Mara said he also miscalculated Manning’s reaction to reducing his playing time so the team could evaluate Smith and rookie Davis Webb. He thought the 36-year-old face of the franchise would accept starting his 211th consecutive game on Sunday, then handing off to Smith in second half.
Manning felt that was a sham and Mara didn’t realize so until Wednesday.
“I didn’t want him to go out like this. But I understand his feeling, and I respect his decision,” Mara said. “He doesn’t want the streak to be tarnished by just getting in for a few series.”
Mara spoke to general manager Jerry Reese about two weeks ago and said it was time to start evaluating the backups.
Reese had already spoken to McAdoo about the same thing and the second-year coach decided to make the move Tuesday, after the Giants (2-9) returned from an extended Thanksgiving weekend break. Reese had informed Mara about the change on Monday.
The decision was met with major disapproval by fans and former Giants players, which Mara expected, but not to the degree it happened.
“It’s fair to say I have gotten a lot of feedback from fans and they are not happy,” he said. “I accept that.”
Mara insisted the move does not end Manning’s career with the Giants, adding it was not time to write his obituary.
“I believe he can still win in the NFL and I hope it is here,” Mara said. “That will be a discussion.”
Mara also said there are tough decisions to be made at the end of the year. He would not address the job status of Reese and McAdoo, who led the Giants to the playoffs with an 11-5 record in his first season as coach in 2016.
“I accept the fact we are 2-9,” Mara said. “We are completely defenseless with a record like that, particularly when the expectations were so high. It’s up to us to fix that going forward. One of the things we have to do is try to find out whether one of these two guys can be a quarterback for us. I don’t know if we are going to have an answer to that at the end of the season, but we weren’t going to have an answer unless we got them into the games.”
Manning showed his class on Wednesday, running the scout team.
“He was Eli Manning. He was so unwavering,” offensive tackle Justin Pugh said. “Obviously, there was some emotion yesterday and that’s something that no human being cannot show emotion after 14 years. But today he was back out there, true professional, doing whatever is asked for this team. That just goes to show the type of character he has and that’s something that will always be his rock. The type of man he is.”