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NFL New York Giants

Eli Manning: Why The 2011 Season May Have Been a Fluke

Few could top the season New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning had in 2011 with stellar performance after stellar performance chocked full of late-game heroics ultimately culminating in the grand prize—a Super Bowl victory.

To be able to duplicate such a season would be outstanding—Manning led seven fourth-quarter comebacks and finished the season with nearly 5,000 yards passing and 29 touchdowns. However, the spectacle that was the younger Manning’s 2011 season may be tough to repeat for more than the difficulty in accomplishing such a season.

Manning’s breakout campaign could very well have been nothing more than, well, a fluke.

Giants fans just screamed blasphemy reading that. Some are already scrolling to the bottom of this page to tear me a new one, but please hear me out.

Manning’s performance was amazing and going forward, there is no question he is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. However, history tells a much different story from the player we saw last season.

Certainly, Manning has progressed each year of his NFL career. He had eclipsed 4,000 yards in each of the two previous seasons leading into 2011, and his presence as a leader on the field had vastly improved since the days of Tiki Barber and other Giants criticizing No. 10 for his inability to be the captain the team needed him to be.

Manning’s first four full seasons as a starter were mediocre at best with below average passing yardage totals and unacceptable accuracy. He hovered near the 20 interception mark for three of those four seasons and struggled to complete more than 60 percent of his passes. Fans in New York were getting tired of his inconsistency and only a Lombardi Trophy in 2007—very much so due to his spectacular play against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII—may have saved his backside from a much more brutal tenure with the Giants.

Though Manning emerged as a big time passer, eclipsing 4,000 yards for the first time in 2009, his production improved only as the game was evolving into a pass-heavy league. 10 players passed for 4,000 yards or more that season—nearly double the number they were the previous year.

In 2010, Manning passed for over 4,000 yards once again, but the foolish mistakes that had haunted him for much of his career were at the forefront. He threw a career-worst and NFL-leading 25 interceptions with a passer rating of 85.3—good enough for 17th in the NFL. Manning, though his yardage production had certainly improved, was still very much the same inconsistent passer who loved to make some dangerous, boneheaded passes that leave that trademark “what the heck was that?!” look on head coach Tom Coughlin’s face.

In 2011, Manning was much more careful for most of the season, but glimpses of that old Eli flashed through over the course of the season.

Despite that, Manning was near-perfect. Every time the Giants were down, you knew he would have them fighting for the win at the end. The guy had no quit and it all paid off at the end of the season with a victory in Super Bowl XLVI.

This upcoming season, though, the Giants and Eli Manning prepare for the NFL’s toughest schedule with a majority of the NFL’s top defenses on tap. Teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers will capitalize on the silly throws he makes that teams were unable to do so on in 2011.

To this point in his career, Manning ranks as an average passer by the numbers. His 82.1 passer rating is 21st among active quarterbacks; his pathetic 58.4 percent completion percentage ranks far worse. To think that after eight NFL seasons, Manning has finally evolved into a top-flight quarterback is not generally logical.

Most of the league’s top passers blossom in their second or third year, progressing year-by-year, but staying rather consistent throughout their career.

A look at Manning’s numbers tell the story of an erratic, inconsistent quarterback who makes dangerous decisions. When he’s on, he’s on, but when he’s not, the Giants suffer dramatically. Manning was on fire in 2011 and the season’s ending reflected that. But more often than not, Manning is just as his numbers declare him to be—average.

An average performance equals average results (see: two seasons without a playoff appearance and three of five playoff appearances going one-and-done).

Might the Giants quarterback be a bit less elite than he has gotten credit for after a phenomenal campaign last season? With another big season ahead in New York and an onslaught of stiff competition on the schedule, Manning will have his opportunity to prove that last season was not a fluke, but a glimpse of what’s to come from the talented gunslinger.

Louis Musto is a New York Giants Featured Columnist for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @LouisMusto.