50 Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments, No. 23: Eli Manning's perfect placement
As the NFL approaches its highly anticipated golden anniversary Super Bowl, Yahoo Sports takes a look back at some of the most memorable moments in the game's history.
In our rankings, the moments go beyond the great scores and plays. We also take a look at entertainment performances, scandals/controversies and other events associated with corresponding Super Bowls.
Here's a look at moment No. 23:
Eli threads one to Manningham
The first time the New England Patriots lost a Super Bowl to the New York Giants, a fortuitous throw-and-catch factored heavily into the result.
The second time, there was another crucial throw-and-catch, only this one wasn't secured with headgear.
No, this time there was only the ice-cold execution it takes to repeat history against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady's Patriots juggernaut. And as impressive as Mario Manningham's 38-yard sideline reception was in the waning minutes of Super Bowl XLVI, Eli Manning's throw is what really made this one of the most memorable moments in Super Bowl history.
More Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments:
• No. 24 | No. 25 | Nos. 26-30 | Nos. 31-35 | Nos. 36-40
Nos. 41-45 | Nos. 46-50
• NEXT (Jan. 7): No. 22
Dogged and inflexible for most of the evening, New York's defense forced a punt that gave the ball back to Manning at his own 12-yard line with three minutes, 46 seconds remaining. That was plenty of time to get into field-goal range, and that's all the Giants needed, trailing 17-15 at that point. But that's not what they sought. There was no playing it safe.
Manning received a low shotgun snap, scanned right, took a couple steps forward – and within a fraction of a second of looking left, casually chucked a perfect pass into Manningham's hands down the left sideline.
"I am in awe of the throw," wrote veteran NFL scribe Peter King, who was stunned by the play's brilliant audacity. "How did Manning make that throw? Why make that throw? Why did he pick the target of the guy with the corner in coverage and a safety flying over to crush Manningham?"
Turns out, it was a mix of feel and recognition.
Manningham ran a go route on Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore, getting a step along with outside position. Patriots safety Patrick Chung rocketed into the play from the side at the very end, but he was too late to make a difference.
Manning and Manningham made sure of that.
"They were playing Cover 2," Manning said, according to the Boston Herald. "They really had our Cover 2 beat to the right side. … They do have a tendency, their safeties will read my eyes, so I did look to the right pretty long. I didn't like what I was seeing, so I slid up in the pocket. … I saw a little window for Mario Manningham where he would catch it or nobody, and he made a great catch."
Manningham returned the compliment.
"Eli split the ball on the money," he said. "Great ball."
It certainly was. The play went for 38 yards, but the pass traveled 42, with Manning driving the ball off his front foot from his own 5-yard line before Manningham hauled it in around the 47.
Manning fit the ball into the only window there was – over Manningham's shoulder, ahead of Moore's outstretched arm and apart from Chung's hurtling hit.
That's not accurate. That's unbeatable.
"Good throw, good catch, man," Chung conceded.
Of course, Manningham did his part. His game wasn't picturesque (five catches, 73 yards), but his process on the catch was. He located the ball in the air, guided it into his hands with his eyes, kept his feet inbounds and cradled the ball into his chest to absorb Chung's shove.
As Manning noted, Manningham did something just as crucial at the beginning of the play.
"On that play, Mario was running hard," the Super Bowl MVP said. "He didn't look at the coverage and dictate, 'Hey, it's Cover 2, I'm not getting the ball.' He was running down the sideline and made a big play for us."
Immediately after the referees ruled it a catch, Manning rushed his offense up to the line of scrimmage. As he had done on the previous play, he anticipated what the Patriots were going to do.
"If you're Bill Belichick," Al Michaels said during the NBC broadcast, "you almost have to have it reviewed."
The red challenge flag flew onto the field, but nothing changed. The play stood as called. It was perfect placement, perfect timing and the perfect kick-start to New York's second Super Bowl-winning drive against New England in four years.
Manning found Manningham twice more, and five plays later, Ahmad Bradshaw scored the game-winning touchdown on a 6-yard run.
If the Patriots had completed a clutch pass the series before, the Giants might have never gotten a chance at theirs. On second-and-11 with 4:06 remaining, Brady and Wes Welker failed to connect on what would have been a 25-yard completion to the Giants' 20-yard line. In all likelihood, New England would have forced the Giants to use their final timeout, burned more clock and added to the lead. But the pass, whether it was too high from Brady or a drop by Welker, fell incomplete.
By the time they got the ball back, the Patriots had 57 seconds to score a touchdown. They didn't get past their own 49, and the Giants won 21-17.
It was as hairpin as any Super Bowl result, and it featured the most pinpoint play you could imagine.
"Good thing I wear [size-11 shoes]," Manningham said, "because if I wore 11½, I don't think I would've been in."
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