Eli Manning's 38-yard pass to Mario Manningham on the New York Giants' game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter is rightly regarded as the play of the game in Super Bowl XLVI -- it was, quite simply, the single-greatest throw this writer has ever seen. But if there was a "1a" play for the Giants, it had to be Justin Tuck's sack of Tom Brady with 6:12 left in the third quarter.
Not only did the third-down takedown stop the Pats from driving when they were still up, 17-12, but Brady re-aggravated his left (non-throwing) shoulder on the play, and backup Brian Hoyer was seen throwing on the sideline during the Giants' corresponding drive.
Before that sack, Brady was on an absolute tear -- he broke Joe Montana's record for consecutive completions in a Super Bowl, and he was 20 of 24 for 201 yards and two touchdowns. After that sack? Try 7 of 17 for 75 yards and the pick by Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn on a deep attempt to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
How much did it affect him? Hard to say -- Brady made a few more errant throws after the play, but the receiver drops were also killers. The famed drop by Wes Welker was a great touch pass that was high but in Welker's hands, and two plays in which Deion Branch ran across the middle and couldn't come up with the ball were also adjustment errors by the receiver.
What happened to the Pats in the last 20 minutes of the game was just as much about the Giants' brilliant defensive adjustments. With full knowledge that New England had no deep threat (they played their safeties shallow through most of the game), the Giants did something they also did in Week 9 when they beat the Pats, 24-20 -- they kept linebackers in the middle of the defense as zone spies to counter Brady's seemingly endless slants, crosses and posts. On Branch's first drop, linebacker Michael Boley was waiting for him just off the middle to Brady's left, and Branch didn't slow up to find the pocket where Brady was throwing.
As our buddy Greg Cosell wrote on the NFL Films blog, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell called this game about as well as any coach possibly could.
So, while it's not clear that correlation equaled causation on the Tuck sack, we do know one thing -- Brady's stats did a total 180 after that play. That's one reason I thought Tuck should have been named the Most Valuable Player of the game ... until Eli Manning uncorked the best throw I've ever seen.
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