And what a beauty their 11th straight road victory was, a 17-14 Super Bowl win Sunday that shattered the New England Patriots’ unblemished season.
In one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, Manning, New York’s unlikely Mr. Cool, hit Plaxico Burress on a 13-yard fade with 35 seconds left. It was the Giants’ fourth consecutive postseason away win and the first time the Patriots tasted defeat in more than a year.
“There’s something about this team,” Manning said. “The way we win games, and performed in the playoffs in the stretch. We had total confidence in ourselves. The players believed in each other.”
It was the most bitter of losses, too, because 12-point favorite New England (18-1) was one play from winning and getting the ultimate revenge for being penalized for illegally taping opponents’ defensive signals in the season opener against the New York Jets.
“I don’t rank them,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s disappointing.”
The Giants had the perfect answer for the suddenly imperfect Patriots: a big, bad defense and the improbable comeback led by Manning. Yes, Eli Manning, who outplayed league MVP Tom Brady and furthered the family legacy one year after older brother Peyton led Indianapolis to the title.
“I talked to Peyton and he said, `Go in there, have some fun, you can do it.”’
It was how Eli and the Giants did it.
After Brady found Randy Moss for a 6-yard touchdown with 2:42 to go, New England’s defense couldn’t stop a final, frantic 12-play, 83-yard drive. It featured Manning’s unlikely sack-avoiding scramble and a spectacular leaping catch by David Tyree, who had scored New York’s first touchdown on the opening drive of the fourth quarter.
“It’s the greatest feeling in professional sports,” Burress said before bursting into tears.
“That’s a position you want to be in,” said Manning, who followed Peyton’s MVP performance last year with one of his own. “You can’t write a better script. There were so many big plays on that drive.”
And now the 1972 Miami Dolphins can pop another bottle of champagne in celebration of a record still intact, the NFL’s only perfect season.
“As for the 1972 Dolphins, I don’t take joy in the fact the Patriots lost— period,” said Jim Mandich, the tight end on the 17-0 team. “But I do relish and savor the fact that there has only been one unbeaten team in the history of the NFL, and it is the 1972 Miami Dolphins.”
The Patriots were done in not so much by the pressure of the first unbeaten season in 35 years as by the pressure of a smothering Giants pass rush. Brady, winner of his first three Super Bowls, was sacked five times, hurried a dozen more and at one point wound up on his knees, his hands on his hips following one of many poor throws in New England’s lowest scoring game of the season.
“They played well,” a dour Belichick said. “They made some plays. We made some plays. They just made a few more. We played as hard as we could. We just couldn’t make enough plays.”
Hardly a familiar position for the record-setting Patriots and their megastar quarterback. This time, it wasn’t the Patriots but the Giants making the game-winning rally. This time, the unflappable quarterback making the clutch play wasn’t Brady but Manning, who had been booed by Giants fans for most of his four seasons for a lack of emotion.
Oddly, it was a loss to the Patriots that sparked New York’s stunning run to its third Super Bowl and sixth NFL title. New England won 38-35 in Week 17 to finish the spotless regular season. But by playing hard in a meaningless game for them, the Giants (14-6) gained something of a swagger and Manning found his footing.
Their growing confidence carried them through playoff victories at Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay, and then past the mightiest opponent of all.
“Every team is beatable, you never know,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “The right moment, the right time, every team is beatable.”
Not that the Patriots were very mighty this day. They even conceded with 1 second on the clock as Belichick ran across the field to shake the hand of Coughlin, then headed to the locker room, ignoring the final kneeldown.
That it was Manning taking that knee was stunning. He showed the maturity and brilliant precision late in the game usually associated with, well, Brady.
Peyton Manning was seen in a luxury box jumping up and pumping both fists when Burress, who didn’t practice all week because of injuries, caught the winning score.
“We just hung in there on offense, kept executing,” said Burress, who wasn’t far off on the 23-17 prediction he made a few days ago. “It came down to one play and we made it.”
The Giants became the first NFC wild card team to win a Super Bowl; four AFC teams have done it. They also are the second wild-card champions in three years, following the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 2005 season.
“It’s the way we went about our work,” Coughlin said of the 11-1 road record. “The road signified the coming together of a team. We rode that emotion all the way through.”
The upset also could be viewed as a source of revenge not only for the Giants, but for the other NFL teams over Spygate back in September. That cheating scandal made headlines again late in Super Bowl week, and could have placed an infinite cloud over New England’s perfection.
Until the frantic fourth quarter, the only scoring came on the game’s first two drives.
The Giants did almost exactly what they sought with the opening kickoff, using up nearly 10 minutes to go 63 yards. Almost exactly, but not quite, because they settled for a 32-yard field goal after converting four third downs on the 16-play series. The 9:59 drive was the longest in Super Bowl history.
That 3-0 lead lasted for the rest of the quarter, but only because the Patriots were stopped at New York’s 1 as the period expired. On the next play, Laurence Maroney scored.
New England’s 12-play drive was aided by a 16-yard pass interference penalty on linebacker Antonio Pierce in the end zone. It began with Maroney’s 43-yard kickoff runback.
It was the fewest possessions in the first quarter of a Super Bowl.
New York’s first series of the second quarter looked dangerous after Amani Toomer’s lunging sideline catch for 38 yards. But rookie Steve Smith mishandled Manning’s throw at the New England 10, Ellis Hobbs intercepted and returned it 23 yards.
Those are opportunities teams can’t waste against a strong opponent, let alone the Patriots. It was Manning’s first interception of the postseason, albeit entirely not his fault; the last was by Hobbs in the season finale.
The Giants survived rookie Ahmad Bradshaw’s fumble, which he recovered, on their next series, because their league-leading pass rush came alive when the Patriots got the ball back. New York sacked Brady on successive plays, forcing a punt, but the Giants’ were hurt by an illegal batting of the ball penalty on Bradshaw after reaching the New England 25.
Justin Tuck’s second sack, in the final seconds of the half, forced a fumble recovered by New York teammate Osi Umenyiora. The Giants’ celebrated defensive line controlled much of the half, holding the most prolific offense in NFL history to a measly 81 yards and seven points. New England had the ball only 10:33.
“We played them five weeks ago and it was a three-point game,” Brady said. “And they made enough changes and really eliminated what we did offensively.”
But New York’s mistakes left the Giants with just three points at halftime— and there are no moral victories in Super Bowls.
So the Giants got a real one as the maturing Manning hung in to find Tyree for a 5-yard touchdown to cap an 80-yard drive for a 10-7 lead.
Pressed unlike they are accustomed to, the Patriots responded with their own 80-yard march as Brady finally got some time. Moss, who caught a record 23 of Brady’s record 50 TD throws this year, scored with 2:42 to go when cornerback Corey Webster fell. The first 19-0 season was right there.
Eli and the Giants snatched it away.