|National Football League|
Stanton returns as Cardinals host Manning, Giants
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Quarterback stability.
The New York Giants have had it for 14 straight seasons, save for one embarrassing week earlier this month that ultimately cost their head coach and general manager their jobs. The Arizona Cardinals have had it for brief stretches, but never long enough to be completely satisfied.
The Giants (2-12) and Cardinals (6-8), who meet Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, could both be in the market for new starting quarterbacks this offseason.
Each franchise will have an adequate first-round draft pick at their disposal should they choose to use it on a quarterback. As things stand at the moment, the Giants will hold the No. 2 overall pick and the Cardinals will draft just outside of the top 10.
After essentially being benched in Week 13 by then-head coach Ben McAdoo, Giants quarterback Eli Manning strongly considered asking for a trade. Manning relented, and McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired shortly thereafter. But it was an unsettling series of events that has left a lingering foul mood within the organization.
"It wasn't anything anybody really wanted to go through," Giants interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "Two weeks ago, it was a shock to everybody. I prayed that morning that something like that wouldn't happen, but it did."
Manning's streak of starting 210 consecutive games, the second-longest such streak in NFL history, came to an end when McAdoo, in a wildly unpopular move, decided to see what he had in backup Geno Smith against the Oakland Raiders. Since returning as the starter for the past two weeks, Manning has thrown for 662 yards and four touchdowns in losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.
"Yeah, I know that wasn't easy, but he's a true man of character, a true pro in this profession," Spagnuolo said. "Never wavered one bit when he went through the week where he wasn't playing. He actually took scout team reps. It was just amazing to see a man of his stature and what he had been through respond the way he did.
"Then he became the starting quarterback again and he responded well in the Dallas game. I thought he played real solid and then last week, I thought again, against a really good defense. I thought he engineered some great drives, was very patient at the end of the half in the two-minute drill and at the end of the game, and we were just shy one play of beating the Philadelphia Eagles."
Manning has two years remaining on his contract, but there is an out option that can be triggered and it is thought a handful of teams might be interested in acquiring him in the offseason.
The Cardinals, who were officially eliminated from playoff contention following last Sunday's 20-10 loss at the Washington Redskins, are playing musical chairs with their starting quarterback for this game. Blaine Gabbert, who started the previous five games, has been benched in favor of Drew Stanton, who was 1-1 as the starter before suffering a sprained right knee in Week 10 against the Seattle Seahawks.
According to coach Bruce Arians, Stanton's knee isn't completely recovered and he's still in a fair amount of pain.
"But his mobility is back," Arians said. "Hopefully, we get a little better execution. He can help -- not that Blaine couldn't -- but he can help a lot of guys out. ... Drew's one thing: He's as steady as they get."
Perhaps Stanton can help the Cardinals end their touchdown-less streak, which has stretched to 10-plus quarters of football. They haven't scored a touchdown since Gabbert hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 15-yard touchdown with 3:25 left in the first half against the Los Angeles Rams three weeks ago.
Stanton said there isn't any specific reason for why the Cardinals can't get into the end zone.
"I think you sit there and you look at it, and it's a play here or something missed there, a miscommunication," he said. "There are so many things, and I think that you're so focused on what you're trying to do that drive that you don't even realize that. Maybe on the outside, it's more glaring of what's going on as far as touchdowns. But, from our standpoint, we always come in and talk about certain goals that we try and reach.
"Each week, we try and be productive in certain areas. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't."
The Giants haven't finished a season with just two wins since 1973 and '74, when they went 2-11-1 and 2-12, respectively. If they hope to pick up win No. 3 on Sunday, they're going to have to try to find a weakness in an Arizona defense that has been dominating for the past six weeks.
Dating to Week 10, the Cardinals' defense ranks first overall in fewest yards allowed (264.7), first in pass defense (183.7) and third in run defense (81.0).
Coincidentally, New York's offense erupted last week against the Eagles with its most points (29) and yards (504) since the 2015 season.
"A lot of weeks you have great plans, but I really liked what we had and it just got set up well," Manning said. "Sometimes you have those days where you get the right calls versus the right defense and you feel good about what's going on and we were able to execute it and guys went and made the plays. I knew I could still throw it and I can play at a high level and run this offense."
If the Giants can repeat that type of effort in Arizona, site of their last Super Bowl win, they should be able to snap their four-game losing streak. The Cardinals' offense, after all, has mostly been relying completely on field goals from Phil Dawson.
"I know one thing -- Bruce does a great job there. His offense is still a tough one to defend," Spagnuolo said of Arians. "He knows how to attack a weakness. I see some of the Pittsburgh Steelers stuff that he used to do, and defensively, I've always admired what they did on defense, being disruptive and heavy with pressures, and I've always respected what they did there."
Updated December 20, 2017