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Does 2nd Super Bowl MVP put Eli Manning among elite QBs?

Did Eli Manning move his name inNFL's 'elite' group quarterbacks with his second Super Bowl MVP Sunday? | AP

Did Eli Manning move his name into the NFL's "elite" group of quarterbacks with his second Super Bowl MVP on Sunday? | AP

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Updated: February 6, 2012 3:14PM

When Jay Cutler was at Vanderbilt, he was every bit as good as Eli Manning at Ole Miss. In two head-to-head games, Cutler’s numbers were as good or better than Manning’s, with one revealing twist: Cutler would make all the big plays early in the fourth quarter; Manning would make all the big plays late in the fourth quarter. And win.

In 2002 at Ole Miss, Cutler rallied Vanderbilt from a 38-17 with three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Manning responded with an 80-yard touchdown drive to take the lead. Cutler drove Vandy to the Ole Miss 27, but was hit from behind and fumbled, clinching Mississippi’s 45-38 victory.

The following year at Vanderbilt, Cutler outplayed Manning — by then a Heisman Trophy candidate — in the season-opener. He threw a touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter for a 21-14 lead. But Manning responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive to tie, then drove the Rebels from their 9-yard line for a field goal to take the lead. On his final chance to win, Cutler was sacked to clinch a 24-21 loss.

So it’s no surprise that while Jay Cutler is still every bit as talented as Eli Manning, it’s Manning who has two Super Bowl rings today. Eli had the misfortune — if you want to call it that — of not being as prolific as a quarterback or as funny in television commercials as his brother Peyton. And, especially compared to Tom Brady, he just doesn’t have that look of cool confidence under duress.

But there is something that separates some quarterbacks from others and Eli Manning has it. After a rough start to his pro career, Manning has made an indelible mark in the NFL as a winner.

He doesn’t quite look the part — and on paper he’s still not among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. But, as his father, Archie Manning, knows all too well, playing quarterback more than any position in sports is about being in the right place at the right time, and making the most of your opportunities.

By that measurement, Eli Manning already has earned his spot among the elite in the NFL. If Bob Griese is in the Hall of Fame, there’s no reason why Manning isn’t at least on the doorstep, no matter what ensues through the rest of his career. Griese, never a prolific passer, parlayed his two Super Bowl rings to the Hall of Fame — he threw 11 passes for 88 yards to win one of them; seven passes for 73 yards to win the other.

The Giants are two-time Super Bowl champions under Tom Coughlin because of Eli Manning. He doesn’t look quite as good on first or second down as Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. But Manning is great at being good when he absolutely has to be.

After the Patriots took a 17-9 lead early in the third quarter, the Giants were at a critical juncture. Manning faced a third-and-four at his own 40-yard line. If he failed, the Giants would have to punt and give the ball back to the Patriots with momentum. But Manning got great protection and calmly hit Hakeem Nicks for a first down. Manning didn’t fail on third down until the Giants were in field-goal range.

If you could pick any quarterback to lead your team in 2012, Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Peyton Manning and Roethlisberger would rate ahead of Eli Manning. And Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford and Matt Schaub all had higher passer ratings this season.

But we can’t sell Eli Manning short any longer. His success is more than just being at the right place at the right time. He’s a proven winner. That makes him elite.

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