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Manning cool under pressure

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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Eli Manning is still far from perfect. He wears a brown belt and brown shoes with a charcoal gray pinstripe suit. He does interviews with mussed hair.

Not that Manning cares much about the little details or even the big ones. In fact, it's his blasé attitude about everything from his lack of fashion to his lineage that has probably allowed him to survive to this point.

"The timeline that everyone in the media has expected him to be on was never something he reacted to or worried about," New York Giants offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie said. "It was never something any of us on this team were concerned about."

Maybe that's why it's so fitting that Manning, after only four full seasons in the NFL, has now led the Giants to the Super Bowl with a 23-20 overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday night.

The pressure and obstacles for the youngest of the NFL Manning trio – following father Archie and brother Peyton – have been plentiful. He has been a focal point of criticism from both the New York and national media after being the No. 1 overall pick in 2004 and then forcing a trade from the San Diego Chargers to the Giants.

In this game, Manning had the added pressure of facing counterpart Brett Favre of the Packers, the future Hall of Famer and sentimental favorite. If that weren't enough, the elements threw one more twist at Manning and the Giants with a cold of Shakespearean proportions. It was minus 1 at kickoff, making this the second-coldest day in Green Bay football history, surpassed only by the famous Ice Bowl game that decided the NFL champion in 1967.

The conditions were so brutal Sunday that Manning and receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer couldn't make it through their pregame routine.

"(We) came out about two hours before the game to do our warmup and we only got through about a quarter of it and we said, 'Hey, we've got to go in,' " Manning said. "My left hand was numb. My receivers, they didn't have any hand warmers. They were done. I said, 'Hey, I can throw. Let's take it in. We're good.' "

In reality, Manning and the Giants were simply great. In recording their NFL-record 10th straight road win, they dominated the second half. In fact, the game only went into overtime because Lawrence Tynes – who connected on the 47-yard game-winning kick – missed two fourth-quarter attempts.

And the same way New York didn't let the frustration of blown opportunities fester, it's headed to Glendale, Ariz., for Super Bowl XLII because the quarterback doesn't seem to take any of the pressure or obstacles too seriously. Even more, it was Favre who more often looked like the panicked youngster, hurting the Packers with a pair of brutal interceptions. The second pick came in overtime, setting up the winning field goal.

"Talking to him last week, not that he didn't think it was a big deal, but he was so casual," said Cooper Manning, Eli's oldest brother. "Sometimes you can't tell during the week whether it's the offseason, the middle of the season or whether he's playing for the Super Bowl."

Or as dad Archie put it: "That's the one thing I'll always say about him. He never let the pressure of being in New York or the criticism get to him. It's really remarkable to watch him handle it."

In completing 21 of 40 passes for 254 yards, no touchdowns and, for the third straight game, no interceptions, Manning was on point when it was hard to feel anything but the pain of brittle limbs and fingers.

"I don't know why he has played so much different," Toomer said. "It's like everybody says, we've always thought this is the quarterback he could be. Why it has all come together right now, I have no idea."

Manning's explanation was that the Giants are simply playing "smart" football. Primarily, games have been close so that Manning hasn't had to lead any big comebacks. As a result, he hasn't been forced into throwing high-risk passes that have gotten him in trouble in the past. For instance, on second-and-long situations, they often ran instead of throw downfield.

But that's only a part of the equation. When Manning did throw, he was routinely accurate. He and Burress (11 receptions, 154 yards) were stunning as they challenged All-Pro cornerback Al Harris throughout the game.

Manning was precise, be it the short hook routes he hit Burress with or the deep fades he threw to Burress, Toomer or Steve Smith. On a difficult rollout pass to the right, Manning threw a tight sideline pass to Burress against what was excellent coverage.

Along the way, there was even a little of the gesticulation that has made his brother Peyton famous – but not too much. Eli wouldn't want to make it look like he's too wound up.

"That's Eli, you have to understand," linebacker Antonio Pierce said.

Said Toomer: "A lot of people want him to get up in people's faces and grab facemasks. But that's not who he's about and I think guys appreciate that about him. He is who he is."

And for the Giants, that's the quarterback of a Super Bowl-bound team.

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