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Plaxico's singular sigh of relief

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. – As soon as Plaxico Burress saw the coverage, his eyes lit up like Times Square on New Year's Eve.

Or, in this case, like Times Square was about to be on one of the wildest Super Sunday nights in NFL history.

Double-covered for most of Super Bowl XLII, held to one catch for 14 yards by a New England Patriots team hell-bent on humiliating him, the New York Giants' star wideout lined up on the left side of the line of scrimmage with 39 seconds remaining. Trailing 14-10 and facing a first-and-10 from the Patriots' 13-yard line, Burress saw only cornerback Ellis Hobbs between him and the sweetest touchdown catch he could imagine.

It had to be Burress who would decide this game. Burress, who six days earlier brazenly had predicted a Giants victory over the 18-0 Patriots, even going so far as to provide a score (23-17), either would back up his boasts or go down as a blowhard who should have kept his mouth shut.

With both Patriots safeties set to blitz, Burress recognized "Cover-Zero," meaning there was no inside help for Hobbs. Burress' job was to get to the left corner of the end zone and catch a fade. He glanced quickly at quarterback Eli Manning, who recognized the coverage, too.

The play was "X-Fade" – or, as Burress later put it, "17 Go Get It."

Manning, having driven the Giants 70 yards in two minutes after Tom Brady's go-ahead touchdown pass to Randy Moss, was thinking about only one thing.

"They finally gave him a blitz," Manning said after the game that forever will define the fourth-year quarterback, largely because of this simple yet perfectly executed play. "The blitz meant one-on-one coverage, and with Plaxico, that's the matchup you want."

As the lone back in the spread formation, huge halfback Brandon Jacobs knew he had but one job: to forget about his assigned pass route and blow up any blitzer who got through the line of scrimmage. "A safety getting past me?" Jacobs later said. "That ain't happening. He blitzed, I picked it up."

Starting from the left side, Burress blasted through Hobbs' press coverage, and as he approached the goal line, faked a sharp inside move. That froze Hobbs, who only could watch helplessly as Burress cut it back to the left corner for the fade. Manning lofted a pass that seemed to hang in the air forever, the Patriots' quest for a perfect season – and the Giants' shot at one of the NFL's all-time great upsets – hanging in the balance.

"He made a great move," Manning said. "The guy thought he was gonna run something short, and Plax set him up and beat him."

Burress, too, was surprised how effective his fake turned out to be.

"We had been watching film on Hobbs all week, and we saw that he stopped his feet right at the goal line," Burress said. "I was telling myself, 'Just be patient. Come off the ball fast, give him a quick slant move and go to the corner.' I never thought he'd (almost) fall down. I thought I'd have to go up and get it in the corner."

Instead, Burress simply had to wait alone for the willowy pass that shocked the Patriots and much of the football world as well.

"It must have been a better move than I anticipated," he said. "I was telling myself, 'Look it all the way in. Make sure your feet are in. And just catch it.' "

And once the ball was in his hands?

"A big sigh of relief," Burress said, smiling. "It was, 'AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH.' "

After the extra point, it was Giants 17, Patriots 14 – a score that would hold up, just as Burress' prediction had.

"I opened my big mouth," Burress said.

Man, did he get away with it.