Monday, February 06, 2012

The Morning After: Super Bowl XLVI - Giants 21, Patriots 17

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas sat empty last night, while Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, hosted Super Bowl XLVI.

But, for the 2nd year in a row, in my mind, Cowboys Stadium decided who would be the eventual NFL Champion. We all know the stadium hosted Green Bay's win over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV, but what some might forget were the events of December 11, 2011.

For it was on that night, in that stadium, that the New York Giants - the team that won their 4th Lombardi Trophy last night - saw their season saved and sent on its path to football immortality.

2:25 to play, 4th Quarter. 3rd Down and 5 yards to go. The Giants must get a stop and then score a Touchdown on the next drive to save their season. Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell is calling for a full cover-0 blitz. They are either going to get to the QB or die trying.

At the snap, it is clear that they are in great danger. In the right slot, Aaron Ross is defending his man tight, expecting a broken-off route because of the blitz. Instead, his man runs a "Go", leaving Ross in his dust, with nothing but green grass-type artificial turf between him and the goal-line 75 yards down the field from where the ball was snapped. Ross and the Giants know they are doomed. The look of panic falls over the faces of all involved. Until...

Tony Romo and Miles Austin did not connect on that pass. As the days after that game unfolded, the story of Austin losing the ball in the lights would reveal itself. Two plays later, on the Giants winning drive, DeMarcus Ware was called offside on a play that was a fumbled snap and a near-disaster for the Giants' offense. Instead, the Giants received 5 free yards and were on their way to a great comeback victory.

That ball, lost in the lights, took about 2 seconds from the time it left Romo's hands until the point where it hit the turf a step in front of Austin. And in those 2 seconds, the NFL Championship was decided. For if the ball is caught the Cowboys win the game with ease, thus winning the NFC East Division, and thus sending the Giants to their off-season.

Instead, those 2 seconds sent events in action that resulted 56 days later in the Giants out-dueling the New England Patriots, yet again, and winning the dramatic Super Bowl by the score of 21-17.

What happened in Super Bowl 46 confirms what many have been trying to say all along. That despite the Giants spending all season on 9-7 roller coaster ride, they were a team that if they could get rolling, there would be no stopping them. And this morning, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will unhappily confirm that point.

The Patriots have a fantastic offense that seems unstoppable for most of the NFL. But, the Giants have now confirmed on 3 straight occasions, with 2 in Super Bowls, that styles make fights. And for reasons that are sometimes evident and sometimes not, the Giants routinely keep the Patriots offense pretty bottled up. They have not scored 21 points in any of those battles, and in the two Super Bowl meetings, the Patriots generated just 14 and 17 points, both in losing efforts.

Here is a statistic that should knock your socks off. The New England Patriots did not score a single point in the final 26:40 of the Super Bowl last night. And that is a gigantic reason that the Lombardi Trophy slid through New England's hands again at the final hurdle of the season.

Tom Brady started the game 20-23 for 201 yards when he hit TE Aaron Hernandez for a Touchdown with 11:20 to go in the 3rd Quarter for a 132 passer rating. Over the final 26 minutes, he was 7-18 for 72 yards and 1 interception, for a rating of just 28.

Perhaps, from the Patriots' perspective, the pivotal moment in their drive for a 4th Lombardi Trophy happened with 4 minutes to go last night. 2nd down and 11 yards to go from the Giants 44 yard line. Brady has Wes Welker in the left slot and he gets a clean release into the secondary. Welker, who has 442 catches since Super Bowl 42 (no one else has even 390), leapt at the 24 and twisted his body in the air as the ball was behind him. In the end both share blame, Brady should have made a better throw and Welker should have caught it as he had 2 hands on the ball. Instead of the ball down at the 20-yard line with the lead and the clock continuing to run, the Patriots would have to punt the ball back to the Giants with plenty of time to go.

And time is all that Eli Manning needs anymore. Three weeks ago, I filed my public apology to the man and yet I still thought that New England would figure out a way to defeat him on his quest for a place in history. And yet, there he was again, in the house his brother built, throwing darts and working his way to 296 yards, 0 interceptions, another late drive for a championship, and a Super Bowl MVP award. Again.

Now, instead of debates about his relative greatness in comparison with Tony Romo, he is being compared to his brother and Tom Brady. While many think that is ridiculous, the facts are that he has won 2 Super Bowls in which his team was almost never favored in any of the playoff games of those seasons. They always needed a late drive, and he seemed to always provide one. His throw and catch to Mario Manningham last night not the final drive may not knock David Tyree's catch from 2007 out of the historical archives, but it was as pretty a throw-and-catch at a clutch moment as you may ever see.

Then, on that final drive, the Giants never even needed a 3rd Down to march down the field for the winning score. The unintentional comedy happened with 1:00 to play and Ahmad Bradshaw trying to decide whether to fall at the 1-yard line or go untouched into the end zone. Oddly, he chose incorrectly and scored, thus giving Brady and his mates a chance to recover.

But, that is where the Giants defensive line took over the game. Brady was only sacked twice, but was under duress just about all afternoon. And what makes the Giants defensive front so admirable is that they are able to get to their coveted destination late in games, when productivity truly matters. No team in the league had more 4th Quarter sacks (22) than the Giants did this season, and #22 was a big one as Justin Tuck drove Brady into the turf on the final drive.

New England stayed alive long enough to have a desperation prayer almost answered in the end zone, but when the ball hit the turf, time was up and the New York Giants had won another Super Bowl. The Giants' 4th Lombardi Trophy ties them with Green Bay, and now trails just Pittsburgh (6), Dallas (5), and San Francisco (5).

Meanwhile, Eli Manning's 2nd Super Bowl victory puts him in rare company with the likes of John Elway and Roger Staubach (among others). A 2nd Lombardi is more than Steve Young, Brett Favre, and his brother Peyton Manning have ever won (Although Peyton may still have a chance). It is tough to fully measure his accomplishments, but those are some staggering facts.

It may not have been the most perfectly played Super Bowl, but it was surely one that did not lack drama. In the end, the NFC won its 3rd straight Super Bowl, and 4th of the last 5. And we are learning the lesson again that the best team at the beginning of February is not necessarily the best team from September to December.

And now, sadly, we will not see competitive NFL football again for 213 days. It will surely be missed.

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