On 2nd thought, Eli may start
BY JULIAN GARCIA
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

Tom Coughlin got his first chance to see quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Eli Manning in game conditions when the Giants played the Kansas City Chiefs in the teams' preseason opener on Friday night. Then early yesterday morning, Coughlin got a second look - on tape - and it's clear he likes what he sees from the rookie.

A few days after declaring the race for the starting job dead even, Coughlin still maintains that neither quarterback has taken the inside track at this point. But this much seems clear: Manning has a legitimate chance to start the season as the No.1 quarterback.

"There is a ways to go in this thing," Coughlin said in a conference call with reporters yesterday.

In the Giants' 34-24 win against the Chiefs, Warner played with the first-team offense and completed three of his seven passes for 49 yards. Manning entered to a standing ovation midway through the second quarter and completed seven of 13 attempts for 91 yards.

Neither quarterback threw a touchdown pass or an interception.

Though Coughlin seemed annoyed when a reporter asked him during a postgame press conference whether he would start Manning in Thursday's game at Carolina - the coach snapped: "I'll make that decision later in the week, thank you very much" - he appears to be considering flip-flopping the quarterbacks' roles this week.

Coughlin said he will review the game tape again before making a decision, but he added that he was pleased with the way Manning moved the team, particularly in a two-minute drill at the end of the first half that culminated in Bill Gramatica's 42-yard field goal at the gun.

What stood out most about Manning's performance was how composed he remained during the drill, Coughlin said. Not that he was surprised by that.

"He's done that throughout training camp," the coach said.

Coughlin also said he would like to see Warner get rid of the ball a little sooner.

"I think Kurt, sometimes to a fault, will want to take advantage of every opportunity he has to allow the receiver to break free," Coughlin said.