Eli Manning Duels Jets’ Smith for NFL Mark No Quarterback Wants

Eli Manning is trying to avoid following in the footsteps of Brett Favre and Joe Namath. Geno Smith doesn’t want a recognition last held by Peyton Manning.

With the Giants out of playoff contention and the Jets’ postseason chances slipping away, among the biggest questions remaining for New York fans is which quarterback will lead the National Football League in interceptions. Manning and Smith are tied for the league high with 20 -- three more than any other player -- with three weeks left in the season.

“There’s a direct correlation between what they’ve done and the win-loss record,” said former quarterback Rich Gannon, the NFL’s 2002 Most Valuable Player and NFL on CBS analyst. “I’m not pinning it on just these guys, but ball security is of the utmost importance. When you’ve got a guy who’s not taking care of it at that position, it jeopardizes your chances of even being competitive.”

While the Giants are among seven teams eliminated from playoff contention, the Jets have just a 4.4 percent chance of making the postseason, according to Footballoutsiders.com.

Among players with 300 or more passing attempts, Manning and Smith are the lowest-rated quarterbacks in the NFL. Their interception totals might go up again this week as the Giants and Jets each play one of the NFL’s top defenses.

Manning’s Giants (5-8) host a Seattle Seahawks team that’s tied for the NFL’s best record at 11-2 and is giving up a league-low 287.1 yards a game on defense. Smith’s Jets (6-7) visit the Carolina Panthers, who are 9-4 and are allowing an NFL-low 14.5 points a game. Both the Seahawks and Panthers rank among the league’s top five in interceptions.

Challenging Defenses

“I’ve only been in the league one year -- it’s not even been a full year -- so every one of those defenses are very challenging to me,” Smith told reporters this week. “It’s going to be another challenge, and I’ve just got to prepare myself.”

While Gannon said throwing the ball in the Giants’ and Jets’ shared stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, has always been challenging with swirling winds and cold winter weather, it’s not an excuse for the high interception totals of the New York quarterbacks. Of their 40 combined interceptions, 28 came in September or October.

“There’s no magic to it,” said Gannon, a two-time All-Pro. “It’s learning from your mistakes and not repeating those mistakes. That’s the one thing that’s troubling with Eli; we’re not talking about a first-year player. We’re talking about a guy who’s been here 10 years and should know better.”

Interception Leaders

Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, previously led the NFL in interceptions in 2007 and 2010, and could become the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era -- since 1966 -- to do it three times or more. The current three all played for the Jets at one time.

Favre, who has the most passing yards and passing touchdowns in NFL history, led the NFL in interceptions in 1994 and 2005 with the Green Bay Packers and again in 2008, his lone season in New York. Vinny Testaverde topped the league in pickoffs-thrown four times, including in 2000 with the Jets. Namath, a Hall of Famer who played 12 of his 13 seasons with the Jets, had more interceptions than any player in the American Football League and NFL in 1966, led the AFL in 1967 and topped the NFL in 1974 and 1975.

Manning, who threw three or more interceptions four times in the Giants’ season-opening six-game losing streak, is playing for a team eliminated from playoff contention before Week 17 for the first time since his rookie year.

“You love competing,” Manning, who had two interceptions in last week’s loss in San Diego, told reporters this week. “You love going out there and trying to win a football game. In that aspect nothing has changed.”

Rookie Leader?

Manning has thrown for 16 touchdowns, 29 fewer than his brother’s league-leading total with the Denver Broncos.

Smith, who has nine touchdown passes in 13 starts, could be the first rookie to lead the NFL in interceptions since Peyton Manning threw 28 in 1998.

Smith said he’s encouraged by support from coaches and teammates. Last week, he was intercepted on the Jets’ second possession and on the next drive threw a 25-yard touchdown pass that led New York to a 37-27 win against the Oakland Raiders.

“When you have those struggles and you come out, first quarter, first half and you have an interception right near the 50-yard line, you kind of start to think about those mistakes in the past,” Smith said. “All the guys, they told me, ‘Just stay with it, stay confident.’”

Inaccurate Throws

Gannon said he’s seen issues with Smith’s footwork and weight distribution, which has led to inaccurate throws. He also said the rookie has had to adjust to the smaller passing windows in the NFL and has been told by coaches to work on not giving away passing routes with his eyes.

“He probably wasn’t ready to play as a rookie right away, but he was forced to play and you see some of the inexperience to come out in his game,” Gannon said in a telephone interview. “Ball security is his biggest issue, without question. The turnovers, if he can’t get that rectified, he won’t last long.”

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