Guessing is something we do when we’re out of reasonable solutions. When all logical conclusions to solve a problem have been exhausted, you then find yourself trailing off into thought, and arriving at a sentence which begins with “well, maybe…”. Eli Manning has taken us further than that, and beyond even shoulder shrugging.
We’ve sailed into stunned, dumbfounded silence.
It’s difficult to explain what we saw last night during the New York Giants’ 27-21 loss to the Chicago Bears, which thus far for Manning was the climax of a prolonged spiral, though it could get so much worse, so much faster. Maybe we were presented with at least a partial explanation yesterday in this very space with the bizarre chart showing a steep decline in accuracy on balls thrown to Manning’s right. Arm strength doesn’t seem to be the issue, as Manning had that in abundance while completing two passes of 30 yards or more to Rueben Randle and Hakeem Nicks.
Manning is now the great mystery of our time, a caper that satisfies the search for narrative easily with his big brother breaking every passing record this season in Denver. He threw three more interceptions last night, one of which came on a miscommunication with his wide receiver, though that mattered little when it was returned for a touchdown by Tim Jennings.
With 15 picks through six games, Manning is well ahead his next closest challengers (Carson Palmer and Matt Schaub with nine each). After four games with three or more interceptions, he’s now on pace to throw 40 interceptions this season (moving along not-so merrily at 2.5 per game), which is flirting with a new single-season record. That record belongs to George Blanda, and perhaps like Manning’s 2013 season, it came during an outlier year for the hall of famer in 1962. Blanda chucked his share of blanks and had eight seasons with 20 or more picks, but none came close to the year he set that woeful record. The next closest season was a 30-pick year in 1965, which is certainly plenty, yet still a dozen shy of his own record.
Blanda remains the only quarterback in league history to throw over 40 interceptions in a season, and taking that further, only 11 have thrown 30 or more (two of which are hall of famers, but one of them is also Vinny Testeverde, so be careful with that gunslinger narrative you’re weaving). But oddly, even Manning’s connection to history may not be the best way to emphasize his abrupt downfall. Instead, it’s the disconnect with his own history that’s concerning, and downright confusing.
With Blanda and, say, Brett Favre, we could shrug and accept that interceptions were part of the package, and they could easily be tolerated because of the other general greatness on display. But while he did have one stinker of a season to make the dubious list below, Manning’s mostly kept his mistakes reasonably under control, or at least far, far from the land of malfunctioning arms that he’s destined for now. Over his eight full seasons as the Giants’ starting quarterback he’s thrown less than 20 picks in six of them. Now with 15 he’s already matched his interception total throughout all of last year, he’s only one short of his total in 2011, and we haven’t even reached the halfway point of the 2013 season yet. Manning’s personal single-season high is the 25 picks he threw in 2010, and we have to go back to his rookie year — when he didn’t start for the entire season and he was, you know, a rookie — to find a season when he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Currently that differential sits at a sad -6.
But oh it gets worse, because of course it does. Further and more recent context is provided here by the interception leaders over the past few seasons:
2012: Drew Brees with 19
2011: Ryan Fitzpatrick with 23
2010: yep, Eli Manning with 25
2009: Jay Cutler with 26
2008: Brett Favre with 22
So over the past five years, the league’s interception leader threw less than 25 interceptions three times. And even Cutler on the high end doesn’t come remotely close to Manning’s current pace. Averaging those totals out over the past half decade — a time when, in theory, interception totals should be a bit higher at the height of a passing era — the league leader in interceptions had 23 misfires per year. This can’t be emphasized or repeated enough: Manning is only eight shy of that number already (and four behind last year’s leader), and he’s played only six games.
It’s all pretty jarring, because while he’s struggled with some inaccuracy earlier in his career, this is an all new, historic extreme. And on Thursday night we couldn’t even use the running game as a crutch, because Brandon Jacobs’ body was inhabited by Brandon Jacobs from about 2008. He rumbled and bounced off defenders while displaying surprising burst in the open field for 106 yards and two touchdowns at a pace 4.8 yards per carry. Prior to last night Jacobs had only 48 yards on 22 carries.
But that mattered little, which makes Manning’s maniacal mess that much more concerning. We already know he can’t throw to his right, but now the same quarterback who’s known for so much late-game playoff heroism like this…
…sent a sailing ball high that a leaping, fully extended 6’4″ tight end had no shot at during a potential game-winning drive.
Keep in mind too that this latest disappointment — to use the word, um, politely — came when Charles Tillman, the Bears’ best cornerback and pass defender, was injured and watching from the sideline. Also, Henry Melton, a primary pass rusher and interior presence, is out for the season with an ACL tear, two injuries that should have made this matchup and throwing against the Bears far more comfortable.
Yet the picks came, and so did a completion percentage of 53.8, and a passer rating of 58.5. It’s all pretty puzzling, and possibly historic.
More notes, stray thoughts, and other such randomness
Martellus Bennett is still the best there ever was, and the best there ever will be
Say, are you a journo who needs a fun quote? Why, just stick a mic in Martellus Bennett’s face, and he’ll do the rest.
“they’re not a bad team, the cookie didn’t crumble their way. Maybe it did, no one likes crumbled cookies” – Martellus Bennett re: the NYG
— Matt Eurich (@MattEurich) October 11, 2013
Remember everyone, if you call the Black Unicorn, he’ll be there for you.
The most Manning-est Manningface
No one communicates through herp derp-ism quite like the Mannings.
Another reason to worry about Rob Gronkowski
Concluding with some seriousness that has fantasy implications (oh and hey, the many words above on Eli indicate that you should never, ever start him again), there’s reason to be worried about the long-term health of Rob Gronkowski. He may finally return this weekend (though he still hasn’t been cleared yet), but as WEEI reports, there’s concern about the stability of his surgically repaired left forearm after a procedure performed by team doctor Tom Gill.
One source with knowledge of the initial forearm surgery told WEEI.com Thursday night that there is “serious concern” about the integrity of the bone where the implement was placed and the surrounding nerves. The source indicated that if the bone had healed on its own without an implement, there might have been no infection. However, there now are concerns that an abscess developed, causing infection and likely weakening the bone. This prompted three more surgeries in the offseason on the forearm, separate from the procedure on his back.
Gronkowski’s family and representatives were made aware of the issues in the arm and advised the tight end to hold off on returning to action until it could be determined that the bone in his right arm had fully healed.
The “implement” referenced there is a device in Gronkowski’s arm which was intended to speed up the healing process, but instead it may have caused an infection.
You didn’t need another reason to be concerned about Gronk’s long-term health. But, well, there you go.
Oh also, there’s this too…
ESPN reporting that Gronk still hasn’t been cleared to play Sunday. Disconcerting that forearm is still an issue almost 5 mos after surgery
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) October 11, 2013