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Giants’ Kevin Gilbride helps mold Eli Manning

INDIANAPOLIS — Through the years, Kevin Gilbride has proved that he can absorb a hit. Oh, yeah. Whether it was Buddy Ryan or second-guessing fans who stuck an unflattering nickname on the Giants’ offensive coordinator, nobody can deny his ability to take a punch.Yet it is the North Haven Conn., native’s role in helping persuade Eli Manning to take a big hit, to accept a sack — rather than do something even more loathsome — that has so much to do with the best season of Manning’s career and the subsequent march to Super Bowl XLVI.Manning threw 25 interceptions last season. On Thursday, Gilbride said that Eli was “embarrassed” about it. Yes, embarrassed. “Everybody in the country pointed it out to him,” Gilbride said. “Now everyone says, ’This year was a great year, and last year was a lousy year.’ Well, last year was a terrific year with the exception of the interceptions. But you can’t divorce the two. The interceptions were a problem.”"It was something we knew we had to talk to him about as a staff. We made it a point of emphasis. But it is really a tribute to the kid. Eli is a student of the game. He is a prideful guy. He knew that was killing us. He was determined to stop it.”And so Eli did. Manning completed 339 of 539 passes and 31 touchdowns in 2010 vs. 359 of 589 and 29 TDs in 2011. A wash. Although one huge difference is 4,002 passing yards last season and 4,933 in 2011, a chunk of which can be explained by Victor Cruz’s devastating gains after catches.The huge gulf is in the sack vs. interception ratio. Last season, Manning was sacked only 16 times, but he threw those 25 picks. This season, he was sacked 28 times, but threw only 16 interceptions. Turnovers, that’s where championships are won and lost.”He was personally embarrassed,” Gilbride said. “Some of it was a little bit beyond his control. There was an inordinate amount of tipped balls. But it’s where he made the greatest stride. Sometimes you have to be willing to accept that if you can’t throw it away, the best you can do on a play is take a sack. Be smart in recognizing the ceiling of a play. It is about being sound of judgment. Taking a chance when the probability of being successful is very, very low is not worth doing.”Gilbride, quarterback coach Mike Sullivan and Eli collectively went about improving those percentages.”If you have something exotic in your passing game, in practice and preseason normally you are not looking to dump it off to the back,” Gilbride said. “This preseason was different. We emphasized, ’Hey, if the read tells you to go there, be willing to even in practice, get it ingrained in your mind.’ Eli was terrific about it. He knows he is not a 25-interception passer. I’m very proud of him.”It is fascinating to see how in leading fourth-quarter comebacks and in a willingness to take a sack, Manning was suddenly heralded as tough. And after absorbing six sacks, a wild number of hits, having his jersey practically torn off, his helmet knocked halfway around his head … and still be ticking in the NFC title game in San Francisco … tough was upgraded to incredibly tough.”The belief was exactly the opposite before,” Gilbride said. “Sometimes you hear things and wonder where the perception is coming from. I always saw a guy that was very protective of his offensive line.”"He doesn’t like to hang in there, not because of a lack of toughness, but because he doesn’t want to take a sack. He hates being sacked. He loathes it. He doesn’t want to listen to the guff from the lineman like, ’Get rid of the ball, will you?’”Gilbride also says he doesn’t think people fully appreciate Eli’s consistent growth, his evolution as an NFL quarterback.”He really has made marked improvement in terms of buying time,” Gilbride said. “He will never be mistaken for Michael Vick or Cam Newton, but as his understanding has deepened, you see him just sliding in the pocket. He has gained a mastery of our protections. We’ve been together eight years. I start a sentence and he finishes it before I can complete it. He has such a great sense of things. He has a lot of knowledge and a lot of courage.”"If you ever needed any evidence, the game against San Francisco was as good as you’ll get in terms of a guy willing to hang in there and do whatever was necessary. He has been terrific.”

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