February 5, 2012 in Sports

Eli, Giants do it again

 

INDIANAPOLIS – Take that, Brady. You too, Peyton.

Eli Manning is the big man in the NFL after one-upping Tom Brady and leading the New York Giants to a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl – in older brother Peyton’s house, at that.

Just as Manning did four years ago when the Giants ruined New England’s perfect season, he guided them 88 yards to the decisive touchdown, which the Patriots didn’t contest as Ahmad Bradshaw ran 6 yards with 57 seconds left.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick reasoned the Giants would run the clock down and kick a short field goal, so he gambled by allowing the six points. The gamble failed.

And now Manning not only has stamped himself as the elite quarterback he claimed to be when the season began – in the same class as Brady – he’s beaten the Patriots in two thrilling Super Bowls. The Giants (13-7), who stood 7-7 in mid-December, now own the football world, and Manning owns two Super Bowl MVP awards, the same number as Brady.

It was a classic showdown with the outcome in doubt until the last pass fell to the turf as the last second ticked off the clock. Manning finished 30 for 40 for 296 yards and one touchdown, while Brady was 27 for 41 for 276 yards with two TDs and one interception.

“It’s been a wild game, a wild season,” Manning said. “This isn’t about one person. It’s about one team, a team coming together.”

Wild doesn’t begin to describe this game — an uncharacteristic safety on Brady on the Patriots’ first play; a spectacular sideline catch by the Giants’ Mario Manningham on the winning drive; and the Patriots’ desperation heave  into the end zone on the final play.

“He always keeps the thrill in it,” Archie Manning said of his youngest son. “It’s good they were close so many times, but it wouldn’t bother me if they’d won a few of those by 31-7.”

Manning led six comeback victories during the season and set an NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter TD passes. He showed that brilliance in the clutch when he completed five passes, including the improbable 38-yarder to Manningham, on the winning drive.

On second down at the Patriots 6 and with only one timeout remaining, Belichick had his defense stand up as Bradshaw took the handoff. Bradshaw thought about stopping short of the end zone, then tumbled in untouched.

Brady couldn’t answer in the final 57 seconds, although his desperation pass into the end zone on the final play fell just behind Aaron Hernandez and beyond the grasp of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. New England (15-4), winner of 10 straight since a loss to the Giants in November, was done.

“I thought we played very competitive. … We were in the lead for a good part of the game. We just came up a couple of plays short,” Belichick said. “You don’t feel good after you lose this game.”

The Giants are NFL champions for the eighth time. It was their fourth Super Bowl title, and the first for a team that finished the regular season 9-7.

“Great toughness, great faith, and great plays by a number of guys today,” Manning said.

“It just feels good to win a Super Bowl, it doesn’t matter where you are,” Manning said.

It was the fifth trip to a Super Bowl for Brady and Belichick, tying the record. And it looked like a successful one when they stormed back from a 9-0 deficit and led 17-9 in the third quarter. But the Giants, who reached New England territory on every possession except a kneeldown at the end of the first half, got field goals of 38 and 33 yards from Lawrence Tynes. And it looked like Tynes, who kicked them into the Super Bowl four years ago at Green Bay and again this year at San Francisco, both in overtime, would get called again.

Then Belichick, known to try just about anything in a game, took a risk that didn’t pay off.

The Giants are the first Super Bowl winner that was outscored during the regular season. They were 6-2 after that 24-20 victory at New England, then lost four straight and five of six.

Coach Tom Coughlin insisted “the prize” was still within reach. Now the Giants are holding tight to that Vince Lombardi Trophy.

“What I was concerned with was these guys making their own history,” Coughlin said. “This is such a wonderful thing, these guys carving their own history.”

New England had the ball for all of one play in the first 111/2 minutes, and that play was an utter failure, a rare poor decision by Brady. After Steve Weatherford’s punt was downed at the New England 6, Brady dropped to pass in the end zone and had time. With everyone covered and Giants defensive end Justin Tuck finally coming free to provide pressure, Brady heaved the ball downfield while still in the pocket.

Only problem: No Patriots receivers were anywhere near the pass. The Giants were awarded a safety for Brady’s grounding in the end zone.

Manning, meanwhile, couldn’t have been more on target early, hitting six receivers in the first quarter, completing his first nine throws, a Super Bowl record. He also was aided by Ahmad Bradshaw, who hardly looked like a running back with a bad foot. Bradshaw broke a 24-yard run, and New England made another critical mistake by having 12 men on the field on a third-and-3 on which the Giants fumbled.

Instead, New York got a first down at the 6, and two plays later Victor Cruz beat James Ihedigbo on a slant to make it 9-0, prompting Cruz to break into his signature salsa move.

Manning’s first incompletion didn’t come until 1:19 into the second quarter.

At that point, it was 9-3 after Stephen Gostkowski’s 29-yard field goal. The Patriots got to the Giants’ 11, but All-Pro DE Jason Pierre-Paul blocked a third-down pass.

Soon after, when the Patriots had a three-and-out and Pierre-Paul blocked another throw, Belichick and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien had a quick discussion. Then O’Brien, soon to take over as Penn State coach, went over to the struggling Brady.

The talk must have helped. On the final series of the opening half, Brady was masterful. Starting at his 4, and ignoring the last time the Patriots began a series in the shadow of the end zone, he was vintage Brady.

With New York’s vaunted pass rush disappearing, Brady went 10 for 10 for 98 yards, capping the drive that included two Patriots penalties with Woodhead’s 4-yard TD reception with 8 seconds to go in the half. Hernandez and Woodhead each had four catches on the drive that, stunningly, put New England ahead despite being outplayed for so much of the half.

Brady capped a 79-yard drive to open the second half with a 12-yard TD to Hernandez, but then the game turned. Again.


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