For a change in this season gone sideways, the night had just ended perfectly for Eli Manning and the Giants, who’d vanquished the 49ers, 27-23, a game-winning touchdown pass with 53 seconds remaining sealing the result Monday night at Levi’s Stadium.
Manning, showered and dressed smartly in a blue suit, waited off to the side in an interview room fiddling with his smartphone while reporters filed in to hear what he had to say about the fourth-quarter comeback he had just engineered to secure victory — the 41st of his 15-year career, including playoffs.
A reporter asked Manning how many texts he’d just received.
“I think I got about 50 of them,’’ Manning said softly. “Got a good one from the wife. I can’t repeat it, but it made me laugh.’’
There have been very few light moments to this Giants season, very little to laugh about.
But on this night, with the embattled veteran quarterback reaching back to some of his past clutch-performance prowess, there finally was reason to smile — albeit for just a short time. This was, after all, only the second win in nine games this season for Giants.
So Manning, who last week was given a murky vote of confidence as the starter “for Monday’’ by head coach Pat Shurmur, surely will start against the Buccaneers on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
On a Tuesday conference call, Shurmur was somewhat lukewarm in his appraisal of Manning, saying, “Any time a player puts a winning performance on the field, he should feel good about it at least for a day or so. The challenge is to then prepare to do it again in a week.’’
Maybe there’ll be more to smile about Sunday. Or maybe Monday night was a mere glimpse of what was for Manning.
Whatever the case, this much needs to be understood: The Giants’ quarterback plan must not change based on a few more throwback performances from Eli.
At the risk of being a killjoy so soon after Monday night’s feel-good moments and with due respect to one of the most important players in franchise history, the Giants must move on from Manning in 2019.
They have to do in 2019 what they failed to do last season, which is to take emotion out of the equation and start looking to a future with a new franchise quarterback. It, of course, is a dodgy deal trying to find a franchise quarterback. Ask the Jets, Bills, Dolphins, Browns and Cardinals (to name only a few) about how that’s gone for them.
But the process must begin sooner rather than later, beginning with taking an early look at fourth-round pick Kyle Lauletta sometime before the end of this season and then likely drafting a quarterback in the spring.
The point is this: A few more feel-good moments like Monday night against the 49ers should not seduce Giants ownership and management into thinking they can stay the course with Manning into 2019, when he’s scheduled to count $23.2 million against the salary cap — a debilitating number to a rebuilding team.
After the game, Manning said the comeback win “means a lot … just for the morale of the team.’’
“We’ve been going through a tough stretch,’’ Manning said. “It wasn’t terrible football; it just wasn’t good enough. Just enough bad plays that kept us from winning games.’’
Manning was speaking from a team standpoint, but he might as well have been speaking about his own performance this season.
Sure, he’s on a pace to produce his highest career completion percentage. But until Monday, Manning had not gotten his team into the end zone often enough and his lack of mobility has become a liability in the new-age world of athletic quarterbacks.
Eli’s older brother, Peyton, was at the game Monday, having come to town to play golf with some friends at the California Golf Club and then to take in the Giants game that night. Peyton has been at a couple of Eli’s games this season, making you wonder if he senses this may be a farewell tour of sorts for his younger brother.
“I didn’t get to see him today,’’ Eli told The Post. “But I’m happy that he comes to support me. It means a lot.’’
Asked what advice Peyton has imparted on him during these difficult times, Eli said, “We talk and he just says, ‘Hey, stay the course and keep making good decisions.’ ’’
Soon after this season ends, the Giants will have a decision to make and, as unpopular as it might be to Eli supporters, it’s a no-brainer.
And following that decision, Eli will have a decision to make about whether he wants to play elsewhere like his older brother did, or do as Phil Simms did back in the 90s and call it a career, opting to close his career in the same uniform in which he started it.
Whenever it’s over for Manning, he’ll be revered by Giants fans the same way Simms has been. And he’ll be remembered most for nights like Monday, bringing his team back from a fourth-quarter deficit by performing at his best in the clutch.
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