EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Poor Eli. Even his attempted handshake was picked off.
The Manning Bowl wasn't what everyone wanted, all the way down to the bitter end, when cameramen and photographers bombarded the brothers as they tried to share a brief moment at midfield after the Denver Broncos' decisive 41-23 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.
What could have been a warm embrace ended up looking more like a Belichick-Mangini hand-slap. It was appropriate: the outside world pushing for something that wasn't there. Eli Manning threw four interceptions and showed little of what makes him one of the era's best quarterbacks. Peyton was his usual stellar self, with 307 yards passing and two touchdowns, but the key plays for the Broncos were touchdown runs authored by running back Knowshon Moreno. The look on Archie Manning's face as he walked down the massive corridor of MetLife Stadium after the game said it all. He had the same beleaguered expression Eli showed all day: the famous Manning face.
"I wish it would have been closer," the elder Manning said, his lips creased and his head slightly askew in that hangdog look. "Hate to see Eli struggle."
[Related: Bitter faces of the Manning brothers]
The entire Giants team was one big tilted Manning face after the game. This is the problem with playing against Peyton Manning: he has to be the most frustrating passer ever. There's no deep ball; there's just pinpoint passes and first down after first down. He gets the ball out so quickly and so accurately that even Giants defensive end Justin Tuck wasn't sure how to help his teammates behind him.
"I would doubt that we had a lot of times where he held the ball more than three seconds," Tuck said. "That's frustrating because after awhile you start thinking, let me try to get my hand on a batted ball. You almost stop rushing a little bit."
Maybe this is why both the Baltimore Ravens and now Giants wore down in the second half against the Broncos. Cornerback Antrelle Rolle said the secondary wasn't getting off blocks as much in the second half, and that gives the elder Manning the split-second he needs. "He has such a catchable ball," said wide receiver Eric Decker. "He knows exactly where to put it against every defense."
Peyton Manning is not going to give a defense four interceptions. Sunday, he allowed none. Pretty much every little brother knows what it's like to deal with the "perfect older brother," but Peyton's perfection has ruined all three Manning Bowls for Eli.
And like so many little brothers, the Giants are now forced to stare at their own imperfections. There are more than a few.
It's only two losses to start a long season, and the Giants won a Super Bowl in the 2007 season after starting 0-2, but this team has serious issues. The running game is all but absent, with lead back David Wilson now looking like a role player (17 yards Sunday) and Brandon Jacobs coming out of oblivion to play a part. That puts all the pressure on Eli, and you can ask Tom Brady how that feels when you're not used to it. Even Archie commented on how the Giants' rushing game against the Broncos wasn't what he'd hoped.
"We had so few attempts at rushing," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. "That's just not our style."
The offensive line? Just as troubling. The Broncos didn't have Von Miller or Champ Bailey, and still held the Giants without a passing touchdown until near the end of the game. "We're certainly not knocking guys off the ball," Coughlin said. And in yet another understatement: "We're not running through many arms."
The defense? Well, 41 points allowed Sunday, following a porous performance against an ailing Tony Romo in Dallas. Peyton Manning has won quite a few games in his career without much help from rushing and defense. Eli? Well, to paraphrase Coughlin, that's not his style.
Even the receivers struggled Sunday. The signature moment came when Manning found tight end Brandon Myers breaking free from a block and fired one into his waiting hands. Myers turned upfield and saw nothing but the goal line and screaming fans. Then he tripped and fell, untouched, and groans showered down on him.
Then there were the two lobs Eli threw into the end zone, landing softly in the hands of Broncos defenders, as if they were intended for the guys in white.
The discrepancy in these two teams, and two brothers? Peyton Manning has tied an NFL record with nine touchdown passes in his first two games. Eli Manning's team is a league-worst minus-8 in turnover differential. Let's face it: Peyton has never looked as burdened as Eli has over these two weeks.
[Related: Bad break for Eli Manning on one of his INTs]
"You're looking at a two-edged sword," Coughlin said. "You've put yourself in a position where you are throwing it and not running it. Now, if you're going to try to tighten it up a little bit, we're going to have to have some run game to go with it."
There's a two-edged sword in Denver as well. The difference is, Peyton's wielding it.
Coughlin told reporters after the game he had "a hole in my stomach" and "I'm greatly disappointed." Then he proceeded into the locker room, found Rolle and whispered a few words to him before ending with "Chin up."
Eli did have his chin up after the game. He gave a faint smile and promised to work harder. "He'll hang tough," Archie said, "I promise you that."
The look on dad's face, though, was one of weariness. This Manning Bowl business, it's brutal on a parent. Even Peyton, as he went through security before boarding the bus, looked like he couldn't wait to get out of here. Archie's only smile came when he suggested there might be another Manning Bowl if Peyton stays in the league long enough.
There's no need to feel sorry for Archie or Peyton or Eli, but Eli has now taken the collar in all three Manning Bowls and now it looks like Peyton might be returning to the Giants' home stadium in February for a shot at tying Eli with two Super Bowl titles.
He might very well be the greatest quarterback in the long history of the greatest city in the world. But he's still Peyton's little brother, and now he's staring at both 0-2 and 0-3.
Greatness is never routine, but when you're great every year, people tend to expect it from you. They take you for granted. And so it's up to you to remind them, every so often, just how good you can be.
Though some may have lost sight of him behind the tidal wave of hype surrounding the Kaepernick/Luck/RG3/Wilson quarterback quartet, Rodgers remains one of the best quarterbacks in the game. On Sunday, he proved it with a 480-yard, four-touchdown performance that keyed the Green Bay Packers' total 38-20 decimation of the Washington Redskins.
Rodgers' excellence lifted the entire Green Bay team. James Jones caught 178 yards' worth of Rodgers' passes, and James Starks ran for 132 yards. According to the Packers, the game marked the first time a quarterback had thrown for 450 yards and a running back had rushed for 125 in the same game.
Rodgers is now almost three years removed from his first Super Bowl appearance. The way he played Sunday, he could be much closer to his second.
– Jay Busbee