As Super Bowls go, it wasn't the greatest game ever played, but the New York Giants are world champions once again.
Eli Manning went 30-for-40 passing with 296 yards and threw for one touchdown in earning his second Super Bowl MVP award (one more than big brother Peyton) and Ahmad Bradshaw scored the decisive TD with just under a minute left as the Giants bested the New England Patriots for the second time in five seasons, 21-17 in Indianapolis.
The Giants' pass rush wasn't quite as fierce as it was in Super Bowl XLII when they topped the Pats by a 17-14 count, but the defense did just enough today to give the offense a chance to win. The Pats had their own chances—but just as it was in Arizona back in 2008, they couldn't score enough points, including a scoreless fourth quarter. Tom Brady's pass to Wes Welker on a potential game-sealing drive went incomplete, and Manning then engineered the fifth game-winning playoff drive of his career.
Manning rallied the Giants once more in the final minutes, beginning with a perfect 38-yard pass to Mario Manningham along the left sideline, and then drove them to the 6-yard line where the Pats parted the way to let Bradshaw through for the go-ahead score so that Brady would have enough time for a possible game-winning TD.
It didn't happen, as Rob Gronkowski had a chance on a Hail Mary try on the last play of the game, but the tipped ball in the end zone was too far out of his reach. It's now seven years and counting since the Patriots could last call themselves NFL champions, when they bested Philadelphia in Jacksonville.
Not a bad finish at all for a Giants team that was 7-7 overall and pretty much left for dead in December, along with head coach Tom Coughlin, after a loss to Washington. Less than two months later, they've run off a six-game win streak, beginning with a solid victory over the rival New York Jets, to win it all again and for the fourth Super Bowl ever.
Did they have some luck this year? Of course they did—all champions have some luck. If Tony Romo completes an insurance pass to Miles Austin in Dallas in early December, the Giants likely finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs. If Kyle Williams doesn't lose two balls on kick returns in San Francisco two weeks ago, maybe the 49ers outlast the Giants. If New England doesn't have a fumble recovery negated by a too-man-men on the field penalty, or Brady doesn't surrender a safety on his first pass attempt, maybe the Giants need to score twice at the end on Sunday to win it all, or watch Brady get to run out the clock.
But maybes don't matter. The Giants managed to get things done these last six weeks, however improbable based on the first 14 weeks of the season, and now all the Super Bowl XLVI merchandise bears their logo.
New England boosters could argue they deserved a better fate this time, and the Patriots had their chances to win—but in the end, head coach Bill Belichick's team again couldn't pull it off. The first-quarter safety charged to Brady for intentional grounding from the end zone put them behind early, and a second-half interception on a long pass meant for Gronkowski, the game's only turnover, also killed another drive. The Giants had two fumbles on the night, but didn't lose either, which made a huge difference in the end.
And so another NFL season, one that was seriously threatened by labor strife in the summer, comes to a close. It'll be another 364 days until next year's big game in New Orleans—although you can give it about 15 days (or less) until Rex Ryan starts touting that other team at the Meadowlands to go all the way (again).
Don't ask Coughlin about that, though. He's too busy lifting his second Lombardi Trophy.
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