Gotta hand it to young Eli

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

The way Kurt Warner sees it, the New York Giants have roughly 46 million US reasons for him to lose his job.

The way Giants coach Tom Coughlin sees it, the quarterback shuffle he made is less about money and more about winning.

So shortly after noon yesterday, Coughlin figuratively took the ball from his starter for the first nine games of the season and handed it to rich-kid rookie, Eli Manning.

The much-touted first overall pick in the 2004 draft will get his first NFL start Sunday at the Meadowlands when the Giants (5-4) play host to the Atlanta Falcons (7-2).

After losing three of their past four, Coughlin felt it was time to salvage a season and perhaps start collecting on the record rookie contract Manning signed in April.

"He is the future of the New York Giants, it just starts now," Coughlin said yesterday at a press conference at the Giants facility in East Rutherford, N.J. "I really felt the last four games we haven't been playing well offensively. We needed to make a change."

The howls for Warner's head grew louder after the Giants suffered a 17-14 road loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. A week earlier, the unrest began when the Giants were upset at home by the resurgent Chicago Bears.

After a 4-1 start, the G-Men have lost touch with the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles and are in the middle of a multi-team race for a conference wild-card spot.

'BIGGER PICTURE'

"Read into that as much as you want, but there is a bigger picture here," said Warner, the former St. Louis Rams star. "There's more things that are trying to be accomplished here and that's why the decision was made."

Many felt Coughlin wouldn't flip the switch on Manning, the younger brother to Indianapolis Colts star Peyton, until the Giants were out of playoff contention.

But whether Coughlin was seeking a spark or something more is unclear.

"I don't think it's political," Giants running back Tiki Barber told the Associated Press. "We've lost three of four. Something has to change."

At least Manning's debut will come at home where a suspect Giants offensive line may have more of a chance of protecting the investment than in a hostile road environment.

In a dramatic move on draft day, the Giants traded no less than two first-round picks and two from later rounds to the San Diego Chargers to acquire Manning.

The swap came after Manning petulantly said he would not play for the Chargers and wanted to take on the bright lights of New York.

Warner was signed in the summer as insurance and won the starting job during training camp while Canadian Jesse Palmer fell to third on the depth chart.

With the contract he signed, Manning had no doubt he would get his chance. That is has come now in a meaningful game against another former No. 1 pick, Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, makes the game even more appealing.

"It's exciting, this is something I want to do," Manning said at his own press conference. "This is why I want to play football, so I can go out there and be the starting quarterback.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity. Now it's time to go out there and play football."

It also makes for a nice marketing hit for the NFL on an otherwise dull weekend. The game is the only Week 10 matchup in which both teams have a winning records.

By Sunday night we'll know if Manning has been timely thrust into the spotlight or prematurely thrown to the wolves.

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SNAP JUDGMENTS

Rob Longley looks at the winners and losers of Week 10

PACKERS (5-4): Left for dead at 1-4, the Pack is back atop the NFC North.

COLTS (6-3): The original Manning machine will be a hard act to follow for young Eli.

RAVENS (6-3): The bad birds are starting to look like the Super Bowl champs from 2001.

BILLS (3-6): Not ready for prime time (or much else). Bills didn't even compete against the Patriots.

JETS (6-3): Thumbs down again after mental errors killed them against the Ravens.

CHIEFS (3-6): Shed a tear Chiefs fans. You know coach Dick Vermeil is already weeping somewhere.


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