INDIANAPOLIS – Eli Manning and the New York Giants, all but given up on mid-December, saved their best for the last, pulling out a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback against the New England Patriots to finish off a brilliant stretch of play with a 21-17 victory Sunday for the franchise's fourth Super Bowl title.
Manning delivered an 88-yard touchdown drive, capped by an uncontested 6-yard touchdown run by Ahmad Bradshaw with 1:04 to play. New England tried to give Tom Brady as much time for a comeback as possible, but the Giants defense stopped them to seal the victory.
It was Manning’s seventh fourth-quarter winning drive of the season for the Giants, who seemed to court disaster and play their best with everything hanging in the balance. It also signaled another late-game, Super Bowl outdueling of Brady, considered among the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Manning previously won a duel between the two in Super Bowl XLII.
"Some of these guys are getting their first one [Super Bowl victory]," Manning said. "I feel great for everybody."
The Giants took over at their own 12-yard line, trailing 17-15 with just 3:46 remaining. Manning started with a pass to Mario Manningham, who made a circus 38-yard grab down the sideline. The Giants moved methodically the rest of the way, killing the clock, burning New England timeouts and eventually forcing the Patriots to concede the touchdown rather than allow a field goal with no time left.
It was just the last in a season full of improbable comebacks.
In mid-December the Giants stumbled to 7-7, leaving their playoff hopes in severe doubt. The New York newspapers were filled with speculation that veteran coach Tim Coughlin would be replaced.
Instead the team rallied for a six-game win streak capped by Manning holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy aloft as championship confetti fell all around him. It was Coughlin's second Super Bowl victory and at age 65 he became the oldest coach to win one.
"Let everybody say what they want to say," guard David Diehl said. "The Giants are world champs, baby."
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This was a tight, tense Super Bowl highlighted by massive swings in momentum.
"Everybody in our locker room wishes he could have done a little bit more," Brady said afterward.
It couldn’t have started much better for the Giants – or worse for the Patriots. Brady was called a safety after intentional grounding from his own end zone in the first quarter, giving New York a 2-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive Eli Manning torched a Patriots defense that looked overmatched and unprepared. That included getting caught in late substitutions and a critical 12-men on the field penalty that negated a fumble and extended the Giants' first touchdown drive, a Manning-to-Cruz 2-yard touchdown pass.
Manning started the game on a Super Bowl record 9-for-9 passing tear.
The momentum swung back on a debatable holding call by Giants offensive lineman Kevin Boothe, which stalled a second-quarter drive. The New York offense had been rolling all half and appeared poised to run the clock down and put more points on the board.
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Instead New England took over on their own 4-yard line, with 4:03 remaining in the half. Brady promptly put together a brilliant, 14-play, 96-yard touchdown drive. Brady was 10 for 10 on the drive, including a final 4-yard scoring pass to Danny Woodhead that gave New England 10-9 lead at the break that seemed improbable for most of the first half.
The Patriots took the first drive of the third quarter and went 79 yards, Brady tearing apart the Giants defense with an array of passes. It was capped with a 12-yard touchdown to tight end Aaron Hernandez to make it 17-9 New England. Brady completed a Super Bowl record 16 consecutive passes during that stretch.
The Giants however chipped away with two Lawrence Tynes field goals and a defense that stiffened and forced Brady into a number of forced passes, a bad interception and, most critically, no more points.
"New England is a great team," Diehl said. "The last time we played them, there were five lead changes in the fourth quarter, so we knew we'd just have to keep fighting, keep scratching, and when the big opportunity came, we capitalized on it."
That eventually set up Manning and the last-chance Giants with their opportunity to win another Super Bowl.
Manning finished 30 for 40 with 296 yards, one touchdown and one more late-game bit of magic.
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