INDIANAPOLIS – It’s not easy growing up in the shadow of a very successful older sibling. That’s been Eli Manning’s life so far.

As well as the New York Giants quarterback has played, he’s always been known as Peyton Manning’s little brother. That could all change today if Manning can once again lead the Giants past the New England Patriots.

The teams play in Super Bowl XLVI, a rematch of the Super Bowl won four years ago by the Giants, when Manning directed a stunning last-minute drive that led to the winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, beating the Patriots 17-14 and ending their quest for a historic undefeated season.

The Manning the Patriots will face at Lucas Oil Stadium is not unlike that one — he led the Giants to six come-from-behind fourth-quarter victories in the regular season, another in overtime in the NFC championship game at San Francisco — but he is now certainly regarded as a much better quarterback than the Super Bowl XLII MVP.

“You’ve seen him grow (over four years),” said Vince Wilfork, the Patriots mammoth defensive tackle.

“You’ve seen a guy not making bonehead mistakes.”

Manning, 31, is one win away from stepping out of his brother’s considerable shadow.

A second Super Bowl win against the Patriots would, said Coach Tom Coughlin, “be a great endorsement for the quality of football player he is, what kind of football season he has had and what he means to our football team and franchise.”

Manning, who set an NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes this year, has matured into one of the league’s elite quarterbacks.

His pocket presence is astounding at times, as he slides from one side to the other, waiting until the last second to release his pass before taking a hit.

David Diehl, the Giants’ left tackle, said the team saw a new Eli Manning this year.

He has a great grasp of the offense, not just in what he should do, but in recognizing what the defense wants to do.

“It’s his grasp of our offense, the audibles, blitz packages, the recognition of coverages, the change in blocking” said Diehl. “It’s a credit to the way he approaches the game. There’s not a thing he doesn’t watch, there’s not a thing he hasn’t seen.

“I’ve never seen anyone breaking down film like he does and it’s no coincidence — you can see it on the football field. He earned it, he wasn’t given anything.”

Brian Billick, the former Baltimore Ravens coach and now an analyst for the NFL Network, said Manning has not only survived in the shadow of his brother and the pressure of playing in New York, but he’s thrived.

“If his name was Chernovsky and he was playing in Kansas City, we’d simply be applauding the growth of a young guy,” said Billick.

“Compare that to being in New York and your last name is Manning, it’s great that he’s been able to survive that scrutiny to be where he is now,

“He has matured absolutely. I would say that his football intellect is beginning to rival Peyton’s.”

Of course, great things have always been expected of Eli Manning.

He was the first pick of the 2004 draft by San Diego, which then traded him to the Giants for Philip Rivers and three draft picks.

Now in his eighth season, he has earned the trust and respect of his teammates. In a season where the Giants defense faltered for much of the time, Manning and the offense delivered time and again.

“It all starts with Eli and his play,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. “You just feel so confident in the fact that, in the end of the game, regardless of the fact of how things have been going, he’s always going to find a way to get us in that position to get a game-winning score or whatever we need at that point.

“As a defensive player, getting the opportunity to watch him as he drives us down. … There are only a handful of guys that can do it like that and he’s definitely one of them.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH