EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –  Eli Manning created some waves this summer putting himself in the same class with Tom Brady in a radio interview.

It was instant tabloid material.

How could Manning be in the same elite class with Brady?

Eli had only won one Super Bowl compared to Brady’s three, and the New York Giants were entering this season after missing the playoffs a very un-Brady-like two straight years. There seemed to be no comparison.

Closing in on the midpoint of the season, Manning is right there with Brady in the NFL statistics as the Giants (5-2) get ready to take a trip to New England to play the Patriots (5-2) in the teams’ first regular-season game since they met in the Super Bowl in February 2008.

Brady is the league’s second-leading passer behind Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay. Manning is third.

Brady has thrown for 2,361 yards and 18 touchdowns, hitting on 67.6 percent of his passes for a 104.4 quarterback rating. Manning has connected for 2,127 yards, 13 touchdowns, and is hitting 64.7 percent of his passes to complete a 102.1 rating. Manning has thrown five interceptions, three less than Brady.

“Well, the question was if I thought I was an elite quarterback and basically, I was just saying that I did,” Manning said when asked of his Brady comparison. “I’m usually not into the business of ranking and rating quarterbacks and comparing myself to other guys. Looking back, I thought I gave an honest answer, and I don’t regret anything.”

Teammates don’t downplay how much Manning means to them.

“There is so much he does that he doesn’t get credit for,” Giants guard David Diehl said. “He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. For us, it’s something that we see. It’s the way that he works, the way he prepares either out on the field or breaking down film or getting with the wide receivers or checking and making alerts and audibles at the line of scrimmage. He’s just playing great football for us.”

Talk to any of the members of the Giants’ offense, and there is no doubt Manning is their leader.

That has never been truer than this season. Four of the team’s five wins have come in the fourth quarter, which is when Manning has played his best. In fact, his fourth-quarter numbers rank No. 1 in the league.

Manning has hit 49 of 70 passes for 710 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 10.14 yards per attempt. He has only thrown two interceptions in the quarter with both coming in a loss to Seattle. The first tipped off the hands of Giants’ receiver Victor Cruz at the Seahawks’ 5 and was returned for a touchdown and the other was a last-second heave with the game decided.

That’s not bad for someone who threw 25 interceptions in 2010 and lost five fumbles. Manning has only six turnovers at this point.

“I am just trying to be smart,” Manning said. “Our team hasn’t been in situations where we’re down by multiple touchdowns late in the game and you are trying to force things. I have worked hard on my accuracy, making sure the ball is where it needs to be. The receivers have done a good job of getting open and being in the right spot.”

What has been remarkable about this season is that Manning has played well after losing two of his top targets to free agency – wide out Steve Smith (Philadelphia) and tight Kevin Boss (Oakland).

In their place, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and the surprising Cruz have stepped up on the outside while Jake Ballard has been a find at tight end.

Domenik Hixon, who suffered his second straight season-ending knee injury, said Manning is reaping the reward of his hard work, noting he is always out on the field working with his receivers, talking to them after practice and preparing for opponents.

“He studies a ton of film,” Hixon said. “To me, his football intelligence is probably the best in the league. Like I said it’s paying off.”