Special to NFL Gridiron Gab by: James Boswell
The performance of Eli Manning in the past 3 weeks should raise the suspicion of anyone who has followed the performance of Eli and the Giants during the past 2 years. Gone are the inaccurate passes resulting in interceptions or the fumbles during clumsy scrambles. Instead of a flustered kid struggling to focus a spirited team, we see Eli taking the reins with poise and confidence, calling plays at the line in much the same way we are used to seeing his brother Peyton. So much so that it raises suspicions as to how quickly this transformation has taken place. While it is possible that this has been a marvelous turnaround by a young quarterback finally having a career changing epiphany about his approach to the game, there is another theory that must be considered: Peyton and Eli secretly switched places at week 17, and have not switched back yet.
A simple look at statistics is strong evidence of the switch. Eli had a season rating of 73.9 while Peyton had a rating of 98.0. Excluding the game against the Patriots, Eli’s ratings in the last 5 games of the season were 33.8, 63, 88, 52.1 and 33.3. Excluding Peyton’s last game in the regular season against the Titans, his ratings for the last 5 games were 113, 126, 157.5, 76.4 and 123.3. Eli’s average was 54 over that period, Peyton’s was 119.2.
When the switch took place, the numbers for the two quarterbacks seemed to follow. The Manning that threw for the Colts in week 17 was 14/16 for 95 yards, with no TD or INT and a rating of 91.4. While these numbers are certainly Peyton-esque, a glance at the Manning who threw for the Giants in week 17 is better. The Manning who played for the Giants against the Patriots in week 17 was 22/32 for 251 yds 4 TD and 1 INT and a rating of 117.1. These later numbers are certainly not Eli numbers, especially considering the crushing pressure surrounding that game (a chance to end the Patriot’s winning streak and chance at history). Although these numbers alone don’t mean anything, taking them into context with what happened before and then immediately after lends credence to the possibility that the 2 quarterbacks switched places on week 17.
After week 17, the Giants’ Manning played exceptionally well. In Tampa the Giants’ Manning had a rating of 117.1 against Tampa, completing 20/27 passes (74 percent) for 185 yards and threw no interceptions while throwing 2 TD. After the first playoff victory, the Giants Manning followed up that performance by going 12/18 for 163 yards with a rating of 132 and another 2 TD against Dallas. Over 2 weeks Manning played 2 games at DOUBLE his season average QB rating and rarely if ever looking like the shaky quarterback he had shown himself to be in the past. In fact, he looked an awful lot like his older brother, especially in the shotgun formation. Watching him in the shotgun directing traffic, and even taking snaps the Manning that played for the Giants demonstrated some of the trademarked Peyton moves, notably the leg kick before the snap.
How could it be possible for Peyton to pull something off like this? It would not be as difficult as one might think. The two brothers look remarkably similar, and would likely be virtually indistinguishable when wearing full pads. For the week 17 games, one was played on a Saturday and the other was played on a Sunday, so the switch would have been easy to pull off. The Tampa game was played when the Colts had a week off and the final game the two quarterbacks would have been comfortable enough with the switch that they could have played the two games simultaneously and not gotten caught.
Why would they do this? The most logical explanation is that Peyton had a stronger desire to exact revenge on the Patriots during week 17 than Eli did, and insisted on playing the game in his stead. Tom Coughlin would obviously agree to have a more experienced and proven quarterback handle the game for him. Eli would be likely to accept this offer as well, knowing that if Peyton were able to play well and fool NY, he would receive less of the criticism that has dogged him for his entire career. The game against the Titans was meaningless for the Colts in terms of the season (or postseason) so Tony Dungy would have no problem giving Eli the ball instead of Peyton.
Even after week 17 the motivation for Peyton to continue playing for the Giants remains. The Giants see what a difference having a strong quarterback makes and opt to keep Peyton. Eli can sit out and not have to worry about covering for Peyton in a playoff game.
The only real question that remains to be answered is “If the switch was in for the first 2 games, how was it possible for it to remain undetected during the 3rd week?”
There is a possibility that the switch was not in for the third game. The first 2 games it would have been possible for the 2 brothers to have switched places without anyone noticing because the only time they would have been in the public’s eye would have been when they were in pads. The fact that neither one was playing at the same time would have allowed the two to appear in the post game press conferences without giving anything away. After the game, the one who sat out could have showered and feigned the appearance of having played while the true player hid from the media.
The third week presents problems because this is the only week that the brothers play on the same day. The solution to this question is as follows: The two quarterbacks returned to their respective teams for the final playoff game. The explanation for the continued performance anomalies is as simple as this: Peyton had trouble adjusting back to the Colts’ system after 2 weeks working with the Giants, while Eli was able to finally play good football after having 2 weeks of rest and the relief of pressure that came with Peyton’s good performances.