AP Pro Football Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Back in August, back before the season began, Eli Manning was asked whether he considered himself an “elite” quarterback a la Tom Brady.

Manning replied simply that he belonged “in that class.” He was questioned and criticized for that and — shocking, right? — it all became quite a big deal in New York.

Hard to imagine anyone arguing about his status now.

Perfect at the beginning, cool and calm on a closing drive to the go-ahead touchdown, Manning won his second NFL championship in a four-year span — and second Super Bowl MVP award, too — for steering the New York Giants to a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday night.

Right now, no one, not even his elder sibling Peyton, is as good in the clutch.

Right now, no one, not even New England’s Tom Brady, is as adept at erasing deficits.

Manning, who had 30 for 40 for 296 yards, with one touchdown pass and zero interceptions, opened the game by becoming the first quarterback to complete his first nine attempts in a Super Bowl. And he finished the job by directing the nine-play, 88-yard, TD drive that put New York ahead with 57 seconds left.

“He’s become confident over time, kind of grew into it,” Manning’s father, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie

Manning, told The Associated Press after Sunday’s game. “I always felt like you have to experience those situations before you become confident. He’s certainly had his share.”

That’s true. Manning’s even done it before in the Super Bowl.

Four years ago, he took home his first MVP award after a scoring pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left allowed New York to upset Brady and New England, ruining the Patriots’ bid for a perfect season. Back then, Manning got a boost from David Tyree’s Velcro-helmet grab on the go-ahead drive. This time, the key play was Mario Manningham’s 38-yard over-the-shoulder catch between two defenders along the sideline which held up after the Patriots challenged it.

Manning now is one of only five players in NFL history with multiple Super Bowl MVP awards.  He joined the guy he got the better of in the big game yet again, Brady, along with Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr and Joe Montana (the only player with three). And Manning did it in the House that Peyton Built, the stadium where his Big Bro — a four-time regular-season MVP but owner of only one Super Bowl title — has starred for the Indianapolis Colts.

“It just feels good to win a Super Bowl. Doesn’t matter where you are,” said Manning, 10 for 14 for 118 yards in Sunday’s fourth quarter.

As he spoke, he clutched the silver Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Photo: Eli Manning