Reason for optimism

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

Yes, the comparisons and expectations heaped on Eli Manning were beginning to sound over the top.

But this is the Big Apple.

Yes, the rookie quarterback showed just enough moxy yesterday to corroborate the enthusiastic belief around here that he is the future of the New York Giants.

Then again, fans of the G-men haven't had a legit, big-name quarterback to embrace since Phil Simms left town a decade ago.

And yes, Manning may one day claim a limb on the family football tree beside father Archie and older brother Peyton.

But in a 14-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Giant Stadium, Manning made enough rookie mistakes to keep the legend on hold for a while.

The 23-year-old, $46-million US kid overcame a jittery first half in his debut as an NFL starter to put the Giants in position for a desperate, comeback win.

When the last-minute drive fell short, it proved not to be enough to match nor overcome Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Arguably the NFL's most dynamic quarterback, Vick rushed for 91 first-half yards leading to a 14-0 lead at the break, which was all the Falcons would need to move to 8-2.

As for Manning -- two interceptions, two burned timeouts in the third quarter and receivers dropping a half-dozen catchable balls -- were lost opportunities too large to overcome.

"Eli played great, I'm excited for him," Giants running back Tiki Barber said. "I'm excited for what this team could be. It was very encouraging. You don't see rookies get adjusted like that in this league."

Manning surely is appreciative of the support, but had a more realistic assessment of his debut as the Giants continued their free-fall to 5-5.

Of the dropped passes, which led to a sideline dressing down of receiver Amani Toomer by Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Manning said he had to be more accurate.

Of the squandered timeouts , which would have been handy on a final drive that started with 1:52 remaining, Manning said he has to get the plays in quicker.

"It was a learning experience," said Manning, whose father made the trip here to East Rutherford, N.J., to see a second son make an NFL debut. "I'll come in (today), look at the film and learn from my mistakes. I made a bunch.

"I think I was so consumed with getting the ball out of my hands too quickly and not getting sacked.

"I've got to throw the ball better and (be) more accurate. I've got to get my feet set and not rush things."

Manning's numbers won't have officials at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on high alert just yet.

The sellout crowd of 78,793 gave him a standing ovation before his first series and the hero-in-waiting responded with a five-play drive that had just one pass (incomplete) and a sack.

Thanks to a more settled second half, he ended the game with 17 completions on 37 attempts for 162 yards.

FIRST TOUCHDOWN

Most of the receptions were short shots up the middle or dumpouts toward the sideline. Manning's longest completion was just 18 yards to a favourite target, tight end Jeremy Shockey.

The upside included a six-yard bullet to the chest of Shockey that resulted in a memorable first career touchdown. On that lone TD drive, Manning also showed some deftness, twice eluding the rush on third-down plays to find an open man.

Overall, he was swift at rolling out, not shy to audible at the line and generally seemed to maintain his poise.

"He just has to play," said Coughlin, who promoted Manning over Kurt Warner a week ago. "He had a chance to look at the defence. He had a chance to understand the flow of the game. He did a good job with the mental part.

"He just needs to play more."

The sense after yesterday, anyway, is that Manning will do so with the knowledge that he has to get better with the belief that he will.


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