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NFL Blitz: A Homecoming For Manning, Finally

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There's a first time for everything but this one sounds a little odd.

When New Orleans native Eli Manning leads the New York Giants into their battle of the unbeatens with the Saints on Sunday, it will mark the first time he has ever played in the Louisiana Superdome.

The Giants and Saints were scheduled to play there in Week 2 of the 2005 season but Hurricane Katrina wiped out that and so much more along the Gulf Coast. The game was moved to Giants Stadium but still considered a Saints home date.

So Manning gets his chance to play in the city of his birth and the place where his father, Archie, carved out a special niche.

"I'm excited about it. It is always fun to go to your hometown and play a game, especially since I was a Saints fan growing up," he said earlier this week. "Seen many games in the Superdome. I'm looking forward to it."

As is everyone else. Both teams come in unbeaten, with the Giants 5-0 and the Saints 4-0. The Saints come off a bye, the Giants off something similar – a 44-7 butchering of the hapless Oakland Raiders. It could be a preview of the conference championship game if both continue apace.

"It is an important game and an NFC team. I don't know if it a measuring stick," Manning said. "I know they are very talented. Their defense is playing outstanding (with) Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator, who we faced when he was at Washington a few years ago. Their offense is very explosive. They score a lot of points. It is a big game and they are playing very well this year. We have been playing pretty well also so hopefully we can keep that up and go in there and do our best and see if we can get a win out of there."

The Giants have won their first five games for only the third time in their history, the first since 1990 when they went to Super Bowl XXV and edged the Buffalo Bills 20-19.

The Giants rank second in the NFL in total offense, the Saints third. The Giants are first in total defense, first against the pass. The resurgent Saints defense ranks third and leads the NFL with 10 interceptions and 13 takeaways. Manning is second in the NFL with a passer rating of 111.7, trailing his brother Peyton and just ahead of the Saints' Drew Brees (108.4). Eli has thrown 10 touchdown passes, Brees nine.

As if two unbeaten teams meeting in a Manning homecoming were not enough, there's also the Jeremy Shockey sideshow. Shockey, traded to the Saints by the Giants a year ago, has said he wants to make the Giants pay for getting rid of him. They grew tired of an attitude not always conducive to harmony and of his carping about getting the football.

The Saints, however, have no complaints. Shockey's first season with them was less than productive as he recovered from the broken leg that kept him out of New York's Super Bowl victory and then tried to play through groin and ankle injuries and a sports hernia. Healthy now, he seems to be regaining his Pro Bowl form and playing within their scheme. He leads them in receptions with 18.

"I think all of our guys, including Jeremy, understand that we are going to spread the ball around," Brees said. "There are going to be those games where he catches 10 balls and two touchdowns. There might be other games where he catches two passes."

Manning's recollections of the dome mostly involve going to games as a fan. He's too young to recall his father's playing career, which lasted from 1971-82 in New Orleans. Eli was born on Jan. 3, 1981.

"I don't remember when my dad played there, I don't remember watching him when he was playing," Eli said. "But he was announcing games when I was growing up, so a lot of fond memories going to Saints games with my brothers and watching those. A place where you grew up a Saints fan, you've been into the stadium so many times and to go get to play there is something you look forward to."

Unfortunately, he cannot expect a warm welcome. The Saints struggled defensively the last two years after reaching the NFC title game in 2006 but the changes they made (Williams, safety Darren Sharper chief among them) recharged and reinvigorated the club. And its fans. Coach Sean Payton, a former Giants assistant, already is working on the public to create a hostile, noisy environment.

"We have the loudest venue in football and that's a big advantage," he said.

No argument from the former Saints fan who will be taking snaps for the Giants.

"I expect it to be loud and the fans to be fired up for the game," Manning said. "I have been a part of the screaming and yelling and trying to make it hard on the other quarterbacks. So I know how the fans think and they are going to be loud."

Still, there will be Manning fan or two in the house, won't there?

"No, I don't think so," Manning said. "They will be rooting for the home team."

QUOTABLE: "I think our players are starting to understand the importance of our division, how good our division really is and how big winning in this division really is. I think they know if you control your division you have a chance and that really is the only focus." – Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, whose team started 0-3 but goes into its bye with back-to-back victories against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. ... "It was a complete embarrassment." – Jets coach Rex Ryan after the 31-27 loss to the Dolphins. ... "It can't really be explained. We say we are not far on certain plays but not far is not going to get us where we need to be." – Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell, who has thrown one touchdown pass in five games. ... "It is good to be 5-0 but we don't want to be 5-1." – Minnesota Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe, looking ahead to playing the Baltimore Ravens. ... "I don't really care about how fast a guy is. I really don't. You've got some fast guys that can run by you and catch a cold but they have no heart. I don't know how fast Hines Ward is but I know that every team in the NFL would love to have him." – San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary. ... "I didn't say I was going to, OK? I said there's a possibility. I didn't say I was going to, and I didn't say when I was going to. Kerry's our starter, and Vince is our backup. I'd be happy to field more questions about it, but I made my point, OK? You can speculate all you want on how that's going to affect the team and what's going to happen, but I didn't say I was going to do that." – Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, on his decision to keep Kerry Collins at QB until such time, if any, that it makes sense to look more at Vince Young. The Titans are 0-5 and at the New England Patriots Sunday.

EXTRA POINTS: The Green Bay Packers don't know if QB Matthew Stafford (knee) will be under center for the Detroit Lions on Sunday but their history says he won't. The last five times the Packers have played the team with the No. 1 overall draft pick, that player has not played. The last three, like Stafford, were QBs: Oakland's Russell in 2007, the Giants' Manning in 2004 and the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Vick in 2001. The two others: tackle Orlando Pace of the St. Louis Rams in 1997 and Cincinnati Bengals RB Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. That funny stuff aside, expect Stafford to play. ... In a radio interview with Sirius, Giants MLB Antonio Pierce likened the team's beating of the Raiders to "a controlled scrimmage." ... The Philadelphia Eagles are working on a contract extension for coach Andy Reid, whose deal expires after the 2010 season. ... The Buffalo Bills have scored only two touchdowns in their last three games and have yet to rush for a score. ... The Packers are scoreless in the third quarter this season. ... The San Diego Chargers' Antonio Gates needs one TD reception to tie Wesley Walls for fourth all-time among TEs. Gates has 53. Former Redskins Jerry Smith is third with 60, behind Shannon Sharpe (Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, 62) and Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, with 78).


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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