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Just when you thought the memory of Super Bowl 42 couldn’t get any better, it did.
Super Bowl 46 was like pulling on your Super Bowl 42 sweatshirt, and then the pocket had had another Super Bowl victory in it.
It was awesome, it was exhilarating, and it made the last four years of Giants football the best four years of Giants football, possibly ever.
The one thing people could say about 42 was that it was lucky, or a fluke. The Helmet Catch, as amazing as it was, has nothing on the Manning-to-Manningham Maneuver (patent pending). That wasn’t luck – that was skill. The Giants were straight-up better. They were the best team in football this year, in fact. Why? Because they beat the two best teams in the NFC, then the best team in football for the last decade. Soundly. No gimmick catches, no “they would have lost 99 out of 100 times.” Play the Super Bowl again next week, and I guarantee the Giants would win again.
Well, I may sound cocky now but I was a complete mess for most of Sunday night. There was one precise moment last night when I thought it was all over and the dream was dead. It was when Aaron Hernandez caught a little flare to the left side, giving the Patriots a first down with less than five minutes left. I saw the whole season flash before my eyes, and tried to wrap my brain around a Super Bowl loss.
Then, Wes Welker dropped a pass that honestly was not that easy to catch, but still looked remarkably routine. Then Mario Manningham stayed in bounds, and Bill Belichick burned a useless challenge, and Eli became Fourth Quarter Man, able to destroy whole teams in a single drive.
Then the Giants won the Super Bowl, again.
Super Bowl 46 felt like a classic the whole game, not because it featured two teams playing top-notch football. Far from it. It felt classic because it was so remarkably weird. My hands were too sweaty to text for most of the game, but I did manage to shoot one off to a friend, at 6:54 PM: “This is so fucking bizarre.”
And it was! A safety to open the game, on an intentional grounding call I have never, EVER seen in a football game. Ever. I honestly did not know you could be whistled for heaving the ball downfield, but congratulations to the millions of dirtbags who had “Safety” as the first score in their prop bets.
Then, the weird 12-men-on-the-field call negated a fumble, the first of THREE FUMBLES the Giants recovered. Then Victor Cruz caught a touchdown that honestly looked as if it changed directions mid-air. The loudest scream of the night came on that play – in real time, it looked like he caught the ball in the Matrix. Manning completed 30 passes, with countless balls slipping millimeters passed outstretched Patriot fingertips.
The most dominant opening I’ve seen the Giants play all year, with just one score to show for it. It did not feel secure, and sure enough the Patriots marched down the field, in spite of Sean Weatherford’s MVP-like punting (seriously, has anyone been as on fire as Weatherford these past few weeks?) to score and eventually take the lead going into halftime.
Then came the dark period: Madonna did not help, but I don’t think I said a word to anyone around me for a solid 45 minutes. I felt nauseous, and dizzy, and felt like the Giants had thrown haymakers to start the game and had only connected on one. Now the Patriots would get the ball back to start the second half, and of course they would score, and when Hernandez did his stupid “open the safe, take out the money, make it rain” touchdown dance I wanted to chuck my phone through the TV.
But the defense clamped down, somehow. For all the talk of the Giants pass rush, Tom Brady handled the Giants D-line better than any quarterback all year. Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers chewed up yardage on the ground, but as I said after those games: when your QB is your leading rusher, you probably lost the game. Brady is not a mobile QB, but he’s more elusive than the Giants realized, and he was able to step up in the pocket and deliver pinpoint throws for most of the night.
But get flushed out enough and you stop playing your game. The heave to Rob Gronkowski that was intercepted by the wait-why-is-he-down-there Chase Blackburn was very uncharacteristic. It set off a chain reaction of guys on the Pats not exactly doing their jobs: several receivers had big drops, including the aforementioned Welker Whiff (copyright trademark Evan Schwartz 2012). The pass blocking finally wore down in the face of unrelenting Osi and JPP. Tuck got the two biggest hits of the night – the one that planted Brady on his shoulder and led to a Lawrence Tynes field goal, and the one that planted Brady on his ass that forced the Patriots to take their final time out.
The Patriots had a perfect game plan: remove Victor Cruz from the game, which they essentially did. Stop the pass rush by throwing quick passes, which they did. Clamp down on the run game, which they almost did. They dared Eli to beat them himself, and with the help of Hakeem Nicks, Manningham and even Bear Pascoe and Jake Ballard, he did.
And yet, before Eli had the ball in his hands, the Patriots had this game wrapped up. Here was the play that should have won the Super Bowl:
|3rd and 3 at NYG 47||(Shotgun) T.Brady pass short left to A.Hernandez to NYG 43 for 4 yards (M.Boley).|
That was the end of the game, right there. And then Welker dropped that pass, and the Giants had new life.
A quick word on the Ahmad Bradshaw sit-down touchdown: Every Giants fan was screaming at their TV for him to sit down, and it looked like he heard the collective roar and tried his hardest and was overcome by the moment. Remember when Maurice Jones-Drew did it a few years ago? It’s a very heads-up play, and someone should have told Ahmad right before the play to sit down if they let him through. It could have been a game changer, but the difference between the Patriots driving for the win and the Giants slapping down the Hail Mary was Justin Tuck. His sack with about 40 seconds left sealed the win in the same way Ahmad sealed the win by tumbling, butt-first, into the end zone.
The last-gasp drive was similar to the one in 42. In fact, a lot of this game was similar – the big catch, the big drop (Asante Samuel’s INT versus Welker), the final score (Giants win, remember?). But in 2008, the Giants took down a team that should have beat them. This year, they are unquestioned champs.
And yes, Tom Brady still has three rings and a super model wife to go home to. But Eli’s wife is pretty hot, too – plus he just won the Super Bowl.