Manning says he looks the same to himself. Then again, he does not do public introspection. When he gets asked to do public introspection, his response is to talk even faster than usual - which is plenty fast to begin with. What follows was delivered pretty much without taking a breath; the periods and other punctuation have been inserted to make it readable.
"I went into this season with the same attitude and that's to try to play my best football," he said. "Try to become a better quarterback through the offseason, to set my goals and what I wanted to try to accomplish. Now, once the season starts, you try to worry about game-to-game, try to go out and prepare yourself to put your team in situations to win. Get the game into the fourth quarter and make the right plays to win games. That's been my focus for every game.
"Just because you've had some success, it doesn't change your mentality or the way you approach things."
But it changes the perception. It just does. You can fight this notion on an intellectual level forever, but winning a Super Bowl trumps the facts if you are an NFL quarterback. Winning two straight Super Bowls, which Manning is favored to do by the oddsmakers, trumps the facts in spades.
Donovan McNabb knows this because he is an aware guy. But he speaks from a position of not having won and says what you would expect - that is, that a quarterback does not need a ring for validation.
"No, I don't believe that," McNabb said yesterday, during a conference call with reporters here. "Would I like to win a ring? Yes. Do I prepare myself throughout the offseason to put myself in a position to win the Super Bowl? Yes. Would I like to win one for the city of Philadelphia? Yes. But I don't believe that rings solidify how great your career was.
"Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl. Up until a couple of years ago, Peyton Manning never won a Super Bowl - never even really been close. Would that diminish anything that he was able to accomplish? No. So there are a lot of great quarterbacks who have played this game who have never won a Super Bowl. But that should never take away from the things that they have been able to accomplish for their given teams."
Again, he is intellectually correct. Still, Manning has very similar stats to McNabb this season but is viewed differently because he won. The truth is, as his third go-round this season against the Eagles approaches on Sunday, this time in a knockout game in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, Manning should be recognized as the Hippocrates of NFL quarterbacks, as in, "First, do no harm."
Beginning at the end of last season, then through the Giants' Super Bowl run, then this year, Manning has removed most of the negative plays from his game. He had 10 interceptions and two fumbles all year.
He is not a great player, not nearly, but Manning has become an effective player. Teammate Brandon Jacobs says Manning is more in charge this year, and that, "By far, he's the calmest guy on the offense." Manning himself talks a lot about eliminating mistakes. He talks about the Eagles maybe being in a perfect defense on a given play on Sunday and says his mind-set then becomes, "They're in a great call right now. Don't make it worse."
Still, he also seems to understand that this week, it might take more. When he talks about the Eagles defense, Manning says things like, "It can be tough because they've got a lot of playmakers." He says the Giants learned that they "left plays out there" in the December loss.
He says, "They are aggressive. You can hit some big plays. But you've got to make sure you hit them."
Manning hasn't hit a really big play against the Eagles this season. His longest completion in two games was 22 yards (to tight end Kevin Boss). His combined completion percentage in the two games is only 51.7 percent. And now he has to get revved up again, along with his whole team, for another playoff run.
"I don't think it changes my attitude or my preparation," Manning said, speaking of last season's run from the wild card to the title. "That's when you get in trouble, when you think that just because you had success last year, it's automatically going to happen again. That's not the case. Every year is different. Every game is different." *
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