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On This Date in Sports November 21, 2004: Eli's Arrival

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

It is a new era in the Meadowlands as Eli Manning, the first pick in the NFL Draft, makes his first career start for the New York Giants. Manning struggles in his first game under center, throwing two interceptions while completing 17 of 37 pass attempts for 137 yards. He throws his first touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey in the third quarter as Atlanta Falcons win the game 14-10.

Following in the footsteps of his father Archie and his older brother Peyton, Eli Manning was a gifted quarterback in college that was projected as a high first-round pick. Born on January 3, 1981, Eli Manning went to Ole Miss, where his father Archie starred. The elder Manning was the second overall pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 1971 NFL Draft and worried his son would suffer the same fate he did by playing his career on a bad team. Old brother Peyton Manning had been drafted with the first overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and had become the NFL’s MVP helping the Colts finally become a contender in the AFC. With the San Diego Chargers holding the top pick, the Manning family expressed concerns over the Chargers franchise and requested they did not draft him. Threatening a holdout, Eli Manning forced the Chargers to trade him after he was selected with the first pick. The New York Giants, who had the fourth pick, sent NC State quarterback Philip Rivers and two draft picks in 2005 to San Diego in return.

Following a 4-12 season in 2003, the New York Giants got off to a surprisingly strong start under new coach Tom Coughlin, winning four of their first five games with Kurt Warner at quarterback. However, after the bye week, the Giants began to struggle, losing three of four, leading to the decision to make the change to the rookie. The Atlanta Falcons also had a new coach for the 2004 season in Jim Mora Jr. and had a record of 7-2 going into their game against the Giants at the Meadowlands.

After the Giants failed to score on their first drive, the Falcons marched 90 yards in 11 plays, with Michael Vick completing a six-yard touchdown pass to Alge Crumpler to build an early 7-0 lead. Eli and the Giants continued to struggle, as Atlanta added a second touchdown early in the second quarter with Vick and Crumpler hooking up again, this time on a two-yard pass. Late in the second quarter, Eli Manning tossed up his first career interception, though it did not affect the game as Jay Feely missed his 46-yard field goal attempt just before halftime. In the third quarter, the Giants' offense finally got a sustained drive, with Eli Manning taking the Giants 72 yards in 16 plays with his final pass finding Jeremy Shockey in the end zone for a six-yard touchdown to get New York back in the game at 14-7. Eli took the Giants into Falcons territory on the next drive as well but was picked off by Brady Smith at the Atlanta 20. The Falcons failed to score after getting the ball, keeping the Giants in the game. Eli took the Giants down to the Falcons six-yard line in the fourth quarter but was forced to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Steve Christie. The Giants got the ball one last time with just under two minutes left but could not score as Eli Manning’s fourth-down pass to Shockey fell incomplete, allowing the Falcons to hold on to a 14-10 win.

Eli Manning struggled greatly in his first year, as the Giants lost each of his first six starts. Eli Manning would not get his first win until the season's final game as the Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-24 to finish the year at 6-10. Manning would spend that first year completing 95 of 197 passes for 1,043 yards with six touchdowns and nine interceptions.