By PAUL SCHWARTZ
Of course there was so much praise and exultation for what was accomplished, but amid the back-slaps there continue to be reminders the Giants — specifically their offensive linemen — would rather forget about one aspect of one of their proudest moments.
“It seems like that’s all I hear about, other than the Super Bowl, ‘You guys almost got Eli killed against San Francisco,’ ’’ guard Kevin Boothe said yesterday.
It is a great Monday to be one of the five starting linemen in a unit that kept Eli Manning nice and clean a day earlier, as he threw 37 passes, wasn’t sacked and was hit only one time by the Browns in a 41-27 victory. Protecting Manning hasn’t been a problem this season but running the ball has been, which is why the offensive line’s show of force in amassing 243 rushing yards is another reason why the line is riding high.
There are always pitfalls up ahead, though, and awaiting the Giants in San Francisco is the NFC’s most dominant team in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game. The 49ers pounded away with abandon, sacking Manning six times, hitting him 12 times, giving him the full, painful rag-doll treatment. The Giants won 20-17 in an overtime classic filled with defensive bludgeoning. Manning threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns and was most widely heralded for repeatedly picking himself off the soggy grass.
“I guess in an ideal world you guys would still be questioning his toughness because he wouldn’t have gotten hit,’’ Boothe said. “He’s a tough guy, we know he’s a tough guy but we’d like for him to hide his toughness. Hopefully he doesn’t get hit like that every game.’’