Time to give Manning his due, as both a thrower and a leader

As Super Bowl XLII Media Day came to an end at the University of Phoenix Stadium it was the same old story about Eli Manning. It just seems so difficult for many people to let their guard down and just back him. Manning always seems to be on a roller coaster with the Giants fans. One day they love the guy and the next day all bets are off.

As I walk around Phoenix days before the Super Bowl, not much has changed about the perception of Manning by many, even though he brought his team to a Super Bowl in his fourth season in the league. Eli needs to be put into the proper perspective as he leads his team in one of the most difficult Super Bowl matchups in years. Take a look at what Manning has done in the first four years of his career in comparison with Phil Simms and Peyton Manning. Simms is one of the greatest Giants quarterbacks of all time, but in his first five years, he had 53 starts, 61 touchdowns, 61 interceptions and 171 sacks. Manning has 20 more touchdowns and 72 fewer sacks. Here's a look at Eli vs. Peyton over their first four years.

It is just so impressive to see Eli sitting at the Media Day podium and always presenting an image of a calm guy who puts the weight of his football team on his shoulders. You never hear about receivers who run the wrong routes or drop balls, or linemen who have a blocking breakdown. Manning operates with a "buck stops here" approach and it's time he is appreciated for what he is: A young emerging star who has made the playoffs three straight years and is one game away from the world championship.

Whether or not Manning and his Giants teammates win the game, No. 10 is a success and on his way to a wonderful career.

Who's the darkhorse?

How many times has a guy surprised all of us and come out of nowhere to be his team's Super Bowl hero despite getting little to no exposure during Super Bowl week? Media Day is a great time to speculate about who that "Unknown Soldier" might be. This Super Bowl has a few guys waiting in the wings to be the critical performer.

Here's a look at the role players who have the best chance to shock the football world with an off-the-charts performance. The MVP may still go to someone like Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Eli Manning or Plaxico Burress, but I like a few other players to emerge as a big reason their team wins the game. Here are some darkhorse candidates:

1. Kevin Boss, TE, Giants

Boss took over for the injured Jeremy Shockey late in the season and his performance has made a number of people at Media Day speculate about Shockey ever being part of the Giants again. Boss had a very impressive performance in the Week 17 loss to the Patriots, including three critical catches in the first half. Manning got flushed out of the pocket and Boss reacted by getting open on a crossing route for a 23-yard gain. Three pass plays later, Manning hit boss for a 7-yard completion. At the end of the first half, Boss caught a touchdown pass. Boss will get his chances as the Giants attack the Patriots' secondary -- especially at Rodney Harrison.

2. Ben Watson, TE, Patriots

I sat down with Watson at Media Day and we discussed what coverages look like when teams roll coverage to Randy Moss. He didn't want to give the game plan away and I wouldn't insult him by asking what they are practicing, but the game tapes of the San Diego and Jacksonville games in the playoffs indicate Big Ben could see some linebacker coverage. If Brady sees that type of coverage, Watson could have a very big day. I would not be surprised to see him have multiple touchdowns in this game.

3. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants

To beat the Patriots defense, Bradshaw's style may be an important component. Bradshaw did not play in the first game against New England, but he has the best chance on the draw play to beat Vince Wilfork inside and he has the speed to get the outside running game going. I don't think New York will wait to the second half to get Bradshaw involved in this game. It's possible Bradshaw will finish up the game with 20 touches and close to 100 yards of offense.

4. Ty Warren, DE, Patriots

Take a look at the Patriots defense over the past three games; Warren is the most productive defensive lineman no one talks about. I talked with Warren at Media Day and he pointed out how many defensive packages Belichick expects his players to be ready to execute. Look for Warren to have a very good game getting after Manning and slowing down Brandon Jacobs in the running game.

5. Kevin Faulk, RB, Patriots

I talked with Faulk about what makes his option routes package out of the backfield so difficult to defend. He has seen all the coverage options a team can have to restrict his production. I would be surprised if the Giants come up with a plan Faulk hasn't already seen before. Look for him to play a very important role on the third-down situations. Faulk struck me as a guy very relaxed and ready to go.

6. Aaron Ross, CB, Giants

Ross and I got into a good discussion about his very important job of defending Wes Welker. It may be the most important assignment in the game. Deion Sanders and I talked about the game and he kept referring to Welker as the guy who was the difference-maker. Welker always has an option route and it makes it close to impossible to shut Welker down in a game. Ross has to make a few plays on the ball, hopefully grab an interception and keep Welker out of the end zone. It's a tough assignment but if he gets it done he will be a star of the game.

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