Is Eli Manning 'elite' - you better believe it!

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Is Eli Manning 'elite' - you better believe it!

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Back in August, back before the season began, Eli Manning was asked whether he considered himself an "elite" quarterback a la Tom Brady. Manning replied simply that he belonged "in that class." He was questioned and criticized for that, and -- shocking, right? -- it all became quite a big deal in New York. Hard to imagine anyone arguing about his status now. Perfect at the beginning, cool and calm on a closing drive to the go-ahead touchdown, Manning won his second NFL championship in a four-year span -- and second Super Bowl MVP award, too -- for steering the New York Giants to a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday night. Right now, no one, not even his older sibling Peyton, is as good in the clutch right now. Right now, no one, not even New England's Tom Brady, is as adept at erasing deficits. "We've had a bunch of them this year. We've had some fourth-quarter comebacks," said Manning, 30 for 40 for 296 yards, with one touchdown pass and zero interceptions. "We'd been in those situations, and we knew that we had no more time left. We had to go down and score, and guys stepped up and made great plays." Led, as usual, by Manning himself. He opened the game by becoming the first quarterback to complete his first nine attempts in a Super Bowl. And he finished the job by directing the nine-play, 88-yard TD drive that put New York ahead with 57 seconds left. "That was quite a drive that he was able to put together," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He deserves all the credit in the world, because he really has put his team on his shoulders all year." This late drive, so reminiscent of the way New York beat New England in the 2008 Super Bowl with Manning as MVP, started on the Giants' 12, with a little more than 3 minutes left and the Patriots ahead 17-15. It closed with running back Ahmad Bradshaw easing into the end zone from 6 yards out. The Patriots decided not to contest the run, trying to save some time on the clock for a final drive -- a risky and desperate decision by Patriots coach Bill Belichick. But New England couldn't get the ball back in the end zone, with Brady's final heave from his 49 falling barely beyond the grasp of tight end Rob Gronkowski. "We had this goal to finish, finish, finish," Coughlin said, "and win the fourth quarter." That's precisely when Manning takes over. In the regular season, he threw an NFL-record 15 TD passes in the final period. He also led six game-winning drives to bring New York back from fourth-quarter deficits. "He's become confident over time; kind of grew into it," Manning's father, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie, told The Associated Press after Sunday's game. "I always felt like you have to experience those situations before you become confident. He's certainly had his share." That's true. Manning's even done it before in the Super Bowl. Four years ago, he took home his first MVP award after a scoring pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left allowed New York to upset Brady and New England, ruining the Patriots' bid for a perfect season. Back then, Manning got a boost from David Tyree's Velcro-helmet grab on the go-ahead drive. This time, the key play was Mario Manningham's 38-yard, over-the-shoulder catch between two defenders along the sideline, which held up after the Patriots challenged it. The Giants had trouble putting up points Sunday despite getting into New England's territory on every drive except a kneeldown at the end of the first half. But Manning kept at it, using eight receivers, led by Hakeem Nicks' 10 catches for 109 yards. "We just tried to be patient," said Manningham, who finished with five receptions for 73 yards. "Got to be patient with this game. We knew big plays (were) going to come. We just had to take advantage of them." Manning now is one of only five players in NFL history with multiple Super Bowl MVP awards. He joined the guy he got the better of in the big game yet again, Brady, along with Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr and Joe Montana (the only player with three). And Manning did it in the House that Peyton Built, the stadium where his Big Bro -- a four-time regular-season MVP but owner of only one Super Bowl title -- has starred for the Indianapolis Colts. "It just feels good to win a Super Bowl. Doesn't matter where you are," said Manning, 10 for 14 for 118 yards in Sunday's fourth quarter. As he spoke, he clutched the silver Vince Lombardi Trophy. Once again, he'd outdone Brady, who was 27 of 41 for 276 yards, with two TDs and one interception. In one stretch, Brady completed 16 consecutive passes, breaking Joe Montana's Super Bowl record of 13. All Brady could do after the game was praise Manning. "He made some great throws there in the fourth quarter," Brady said. The biggest turnaround of all this season for Manning was the way he brought the Giants back from a 1-5 slump that left them 7-7 and in serious danger of missing the playoffs. But from there, he took them on a season-closing, six-game winning streak. He finished the postseason with nine TDs and only one interception, solid as could be the whole way. "I never doubt Eli," Giants safety Kenny Phillips said. "I don't think anyone on this team doubts Eli." No one -- anywhere -- possibly could doubt him now.

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

No doubt, there are doubts about the makeup of this 2017 Bears wide receiver corps. But as the departed Alshon Jeffery created doubts, health-wise, the past two years about whether he could stay on the field to prove himself worthy of a big payday (which he didn’t even get from the Eagles), Ryan Pace brought in a handful of replacements who’ve flashed in this league before. But recent history’s shown each of them has something to prove as well.

From Rueben Randle to fellow former Giant Victor Cruz. From former first rounders Kendall Wright to Kevin White, taking a third swing at making it though an entire NFL season.

Then there’s Markus Wheaton, the only free agent signee at the position this season to receive a two-year deal ($11 million total, with $6 million guaranteed). Like the rest of the group, though, he’s at a career crossroads. Following seasons with 53 and 44 catches in Pittsburgh in 2014 and 2015 (with a 17-yard average in the latter), the quick-twitch former Steeler was limited to three games a year ago before eventually undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in January.

“Everyone’s new, so we don’t know what it’s gonna be,” he said of the group at the team’s recent minicamp in Lake Forest. “In Pittsburgh you kind of have a clue `cause they’ve done it for so long. Everybody’s new, everybody’s trying to find their niche, so we’ll see how it goes. Anything’s possible. We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for opportunity. A lot of guys that are hungry and have something to prove. Anything’s possible. Anyone can come out on top. The ultimate goal is to win games and I’m sure the coaches will put us in position to do that.”

The former third-round pick out of Oregon State (where he’s the Beavers’ all-time career leader in receptions, one ahead of Brandin Cooks) played all three receiver positions in Pittsburgh at various times, and while he seems most natural in the slot, is working to make himself as versatile as possible here. But that comes with some risk as a quarterback room that’s also gone through its share of turnover tries to get on the same page with all the targets. But Wheaton is more than confident the results will come from within this group.

“I think we definitely are underrated," Wheaton said. "We’ve come in and worked to get to where we wanna be. We will get there, and it’ll show up on the field.”

The incumbents in the room include Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman, Cam Meredith, and, of course, White. Wheaton can see the potential in the ex-seventh overall draft pick.

“I couldn’t imagine all the stuff he’s been through, all the pressure that’s been put on him," Wheaton said. "But he’s a down-to-earth guy who works extremely hard, so I think he’s gonna get his. He’s a big-time playmaker, so I’m excited to see him play.

“They welcomed me with open arms. Everybody’s down to earth, been easy to talk to so when I have questions, I’ve been getting answers, so it’s been real easy for me.”

That surgically-repaired shoulder was cleared for full participation just in time for minicamp two weeks ago. And Wheaton won’t allow himself to become hesitant physically as he aims to conquer what hesitation he could have within the offense, working with quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger.

“I really don’t think there’s time for that. When you’re ready to go, you just go,” Wheaton told us. “You come in, you work, you rehab. And for me personally I had to rehab a lot to get back to where I wanted to be. There’s a level I want to be at. I’ve been just working to get there, so there’s no time for that.”

That last statement comes even if some observers hesitate to call Wheaton and these wideouts “underrated.” They’ll start attempting to prove that when the Bears report to Bourbonnais exactly one month from Monday.

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland turned in one of his best starts of the season on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the White Sox had nothing to show for it after a 5-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon.

In six innings, Holland allowed four hits, one earned run, and two walks while recording six strikeouts. He was charged with his only run in the seventh, when he allowed a single to Yonder Alonso, who came around to score after Holland had been pulled from the game.

Despite his confidence in the bullpen, which has been one of the White Sox biggest strengths this season, Holland would like to see himself go deeper into the games.

“I should be getting into the 7th and not having 110 pitches,” Holland said. “The bullpen's done a great job of picking us up in the seventh, eighth and ninth. The starters, and really pointing more to myself, we need to...I need to go out there and go longer."

Entering Sunday, three of Holland’s last four starts had been the worst outings of the season – allowing 22 earned runs over those four games. Despite the team’s 5-3 loss, Holland felt his outing was a step in the right direction.

“I felt good about everything out there,” Holland said. “(Omar Narvaez) and I were right on the same page. There were just a couple of things that got away from us. Just one of those things. Defense made the plays for us when they needed to, unfortunately we just didn't come out on top."

Manager Rick Renteria also had high praise for the 30-year-old southpaw, who bounced back from one of his shortest outings of the season.

“I thought Holland, hopefully what's not lost is Holland's outing today was really, really good,” Renteria said. “He kept us in the ballgame. They've got some kids that can swing the bat. They were putting things together. All we were trying to do at the end was minimize any damage they could produce. We weren't able to.”