EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning stood at his locker, surveyed the surrounding media and answered a question with eight inarguable words.
"Always glad when the preseason is over with."
Yes, the longest preseason in NFL history -- or so it seemed -- ended last week, and it might be that no team in the league was happier about that than the New York Giants.
They reported to training camp exactly seven weeks before their first real game. (Seven weeks!) They mostly mucked through the implementation of their new offense under new coordinator Ben McAdoo, and their first-round draft pick, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., never completed a single practice because of a hamstring injury.
And they endured -- yes, we're pretty sure that's the word -- day after day of questions from a New York media corps (including this reporter) that made little secret of its incredibly low expectations when it comes to the Giants' ability to score points. In 19 preseason possessions, Manning produced just three touchdowns.
"HE'S LOST," screamed the New York Daily News back page headline on Aug. 17, accompanied by a picture of Manning, arms crossed, standing on the sideline.
And in between, Boomer Esiason, the CBS analyst and half of the WFAN radio morning show "Boomer and Carton," told Newsday columnist Bob Glauber that Manning looks "disinterested."
That last part is particularly curious -- and would be out of character -- for a guy like Manning, whose teammates have long described him as the first player to arrive and the last to leave. But it is also indicative of the treatment Manning and the Giants have received recently on New York sports talk radio.
"Outside opinions have never affected our game or never had an influence on how we played," he said. "... Everybody understands what we have to do individually and what we have to do as a team to go win the game."
Over the past month, a fascinating line has been drawn in the metropolitan area between Giants and Jets fans -- and, to some extent, in the media, as well. The teams don't play each other during the regular season this year, which means their lone meeting came last month, when the Jets' starters outplayed the Giants' starters, though the Giants won the game.
The front-page headline: "A tale of two QBs. Geno flies high, Eli still Giant mess."
And the back page: "CODE BLUE. It's Giant time to panic as Geno outplays Eli."
For the New York Jets, just over one year removed from the Tim Tebow fiasco and a season since Mark Sanchez donned his headband at 1 Jets Drive, this has been a preseason marked by unusual calm, led by a comfortable quarterback "competition" where Geno Smith did his part in outperforming Michael Vick.
Ryan added, "I think when this thing gets kicked off for real, we absolutely have no excuses."
Those last five words might be quoted again this season.
The bottom line is this: Both Manning and Smith, who combined for 48 interceptions last season (27 by Eli, an NFL high), need to stop giving the ball away for their respective teams to thrive.
Clearly, the Giants are viewed as the more fragile group. Noting their 0-6 start last season, a newspaper reporter asked Manning this week if Monday's season opener at Detroit is "a must-win." Manning initially laughed -- as if to say, A must-win in Game 1? -- then agreed that the Giants would like to win every game, including the first one.
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As for the doubters, whoever they may be, Manning said, "You can always use that as motivation. We have to rely on each other."
There's a chance that message will become a familiar one in East Rutherford, where Tom Coughlin is always seeking a motivational edge.
Right tackle Justin Pugh told "NFL AM" on Tuesday that Coughlin more recently has used the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs as an example and also has quoted Nelson Mandela.
Now Coughlin faces a season opener with the offense a work in progress, and the din of external voices is registering considerable concern and/or making dire projections. Some players say they won't be surprised if their head coach mentions the detractors to them in coming days.
"I'm not aware of all the speculatives that are being said," Coughlin told NFL.com. "But if that becomes an issue, no question, we'll use everything we can."
Motivation aside, there is still the matter of the quarterback, of whether Manning, in his 11th season, can make the biggest adjustment of his career. Manning says execution has been the issue, that confidence is not the problem. His teammates say they maintain faith. They also describe Eli as resilient, invested and able to handle -- or simply dismiss -- the most public second-guessing he's been dealt in a decade.
Tougher than he looks?
A veteran Giant nodded and said one word: "Much."
Perhaps, with a nod to skeptics who aren't necessarily wrong, it's worth noting that this is another of Coughlin's favorite mottos: "Talk is cheap. Play the game."