Congrats to the New York Giants for defeating the Patriots 21-17, and winning their fourth Super Bowl title, and eighth NFL Championship. The story book ending to their improbable season came to an incredible end with a game that literally went down to the wire in the latest of a long string of fantastic Super Bowls.
It was a game of runs – the Giants took a 9-0 lead, only to see the Patriots go on a 17-0 run into the third quarter. But it was the Giants for most of the second half, closing on a 12-0, cemented by an Ahmad Bradshaw six-yard run to put them up 21-17 with just under a minute left. In a strategic ploy, Bill Belichick elected to let the Giants score with a minute left, hoping his offense would be able to answer back.
Much like he did four years ago, Eli Manning led the Giants down the field late in the game to score the go-ahead touchdown. Manning started off his 88-yard, game winning drive by connecting with Mario Manningham on a 38-yard play down the near sideline. It set the tone for the drive, and the Giants never relented. Manning was named the Super Bowl MVP for the second time in his career.
From New England’s standpoint, the game started strange enough. On the first play from scrimmage, Tom Brady faked a hand-off, and then dropped back to pass from his own endzone. After finding no open receiver, he hurled the ball forty yards down the field and not even close to any receiver. The officials quickly determined this to be intentional grounding, and since it occurred in the endzone, ruled it to be a safety and gave the Giants two points. The Giants added a touchdown on their following drive, as Manning hit Cruz for his only touchdown pass of the evening.
There were chances – plenty of them – for New England. A fumble recovery negated by twelve men on the field for New England on New York’s first touchdown drive; a Giants fumble that wasn’t recovered by New England at the beginning of the fourth quarter; a dropped pass by Wes Welker that would have given the Patriots the ball at the Giants’ 20 with three minutes left in the game instead became a punt that sparked New York’s game winning drive; dropped passes by Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez at the beginning of the Patriots’ final drive.
But for whatever reason, be it destiny, divine or defense, the Giants did it again. Although Tom Brady was not the sitting duck in the pocket that he was in Super Bowl XLII, Brady had to dip, duck and dodge Giants linemen all evening long. Even though it was four years in between the two Super Bowls, the game played out as if it was just a continuation of that game in the desert. If it was possible, tonight’s game was even more thrilling than the first Super Bowl, with this one coming down to one last, desperate prayer thrown by Brady. For a moment, it seemed like Rob Gronkowski would come away with the ball after it was deflected, but it fell just beyond his outstretched fingers.
You can’t help but feel sorry for the Patriots, no matter how much you root for the Giants, or oppose the New England team. The team played much of the season in honor of owner Robert Kraft’s late wife, Myra, who passed away even as Robert was spearheading the owner’s effort to end the 2011 NFL lockout. Kraft, a lifelong Patriots fan who bought the team in 1994, was praised time and time again by player and his fellow owners as the lockout was ended. There is no doubt that Kraft has changed the culture in New England – perennial losers through the ’70s and ’80s, but turned the corner only after Kraft took over.
Conversely, you can’t help but feel happy for Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin. Both came into this season feeling the New York pressure to perform after a disappointing end to the 2010 season, and both responded in extraordinary ways. Manning, time and time again, regular season and postseason, put the team on his back when they needed to put up points. He now has two Super Bowl rings (and MVPs); one more than brother Peyton, and only one less than this generation’s standard for greatness, Tom Brady. Eli started off the season by saying that he wanted to be regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the league, and now he has the second most championships among any active quarterback. He has earned himself the right to be regarded as good as any quarterback in the game.
Tom Coughlin has had to put up with critics during his entire tenure in New York. Some criticism, like how he was too tough on players early in his time in New York, was deserved. There were a lot of well known, super star players still too familiar with Jim Fassell’s regime to fully buy into Tom Coughlin’s system. It didn’t work for Tiki Barber; it took time for Michael Strahan to adjust to it. But ever since 2007, even if the results are not always there, Coughlin puts his team in position to win. He now has as many championships as Bill Parcells, a coach worthy of the Hall of Fame.
I contend that the biggest difference between this year’s Giants and last years Giants is the emergence of the wide receiver corp. A lot of Manning’s interceptions were on balls that were dropped by his own receivers. This year, when he threw it to Cruz, or Nicks, or Manningham, they caught the ball. They had a stellar year, and everyone else did. There was no weak link in the Giants game. Offense, defense, special teams. It was all there. A lot of the credit goes to Steve Weatherford, the Giants punter that launched bomb after bomb all evening long, pinning the Patriots inside their own five yard line twice. The Giants will not be remembered as overwhelmingly great in any category, but a team that was not weak in any category, growing as a team throughout the season, and finally putting the puzzle together when it mattered the most – the final regular season games and the playoffs.
Congrats to the Giants on their championship. Congrats for the Patriots for their AFC championship. And God bless this wonderful game that we call football.