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(Sunday, February 5th)
Final Score: NY Giants 21, New England 17
Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) - There's no longer any debate as to whether Eli Manning belongs in the same class as Tom Brady.
Four years after directing a dramatic game-winning drive to defeat the New England Patriots for a world championship -- and six months after causing a stir by saying he considered himself on equal footing with Brady -- Manning once again came through in the clutch to rally the New York Giants to victory over the Patriots in a Super Bowl.
Manning engineered a nine-play, 88-yard drive, capped by Ahmad Bradshaw's six- yard touchdown run with 57 seconds left, that gave the Giants a 21-17 win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday.
It was the franchise's fourth Super Bowl title and first since it ousted the then-unbeaten Patriots by a 17-14 score at Arizona's University of Phoenix Stadium to conclude the 2007 season -- in a strangely-similar come-from-behind fashion.
Manning also claimed his second career Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award after completing 30-of-40 passes for 296 yards and one touchdown without an interception, joining Brady and Hall of Famers Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only players in NFL history to win the honor multiple times and fully putting to rest any lingering doubts over his standing as an elite NFL quarterback.
The 31-year-old now had one more ring than older brother Peyton, and he accomplished the feat on his elder sibling's home field in Indianapolis.
"This isn't about one person," Manning said. "This is about a team coming together, getting this win. I'm just proud of our guys, proud of the team and how we fought all year. Never got discouraged, kept their faith and kept their confidence and just fought to the very end."
The Giants also made history in seizing the Lombardi Trophy by winning their sixth consecutive game dating back to Week 16 of the regular season. They became the first Super Bowl champion to finish 9-7 over a 16-game schedule prior to the playoffs, as well as the first to overcome a deficit of eight or more points in the second half of a Super Bowl.
New York was 7-7 and on the outside of the postseason picture before posting wins over the Jets and Dallas to capture the NFC East, and also bested the conference's top two seeds (Green Bay and San Francisco) on the road in the playoffs to reach Indianapolis.
"You look at this season and the way that we fought and stuck together," said New York offensive lineman David Diehl. "We accomplished something that nobody on the outside looking in thought we could do. But the people in our room -- the players on this team, our coaches, our organization -- nobody said this could be done except for us and we believed in one another."
New York scored the final 12 points in a game filled with momentum shifts. The Patriots fell behind 9-0 after the first quarter before embarking on a 17-0 run highlighted by a pair of Brady touchdown passes.
New England was clinging to a 17-15 edge when punting the ball back to the Giants with 3:46 left. With New York on its own 12-yard line, Manning hurled a deep out to the left sideline that was hauled in by Mario Manningham, with the wide receiver making a leaping grab over Pats safety Patrick Chung at midfield and managing to keep both feet inbounds.
"I saw I had the safety cheated in a little bit and threw it down the sideline," said Manning of the play. "Great catch by [Manningham], keeping both feet in. That's a huge play in the game right there; when you're backed up, to get a 40-yard gain and get to the middle of the field. It was a big, big, big-time play right there."
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick challenged the ruling but was unsuccessful, forcing his club to spend one of its three allotted time outs.
Manning and Manningham hooked up for a 16-yard gain two plays later, and Manning hit Hakeem Nicks with a 14-yard bullet shortly after to put New York on the New England 18-yard line at the two-minute warning. A short pass to Nicks gave the Giants a 1st-and-goal at the seven with just over a minute to go, and after Bradshaw was stopped for a yard and the Patriots called time out, the determined running back made his way into the end zone with New England appearing to surrender a touchdown in order to give Brady additional time.
Danny Ware's rushing attempt on the subsequent conversion try was thwarted by the Patriots defense, keeping New York's lead to four points as Brady took over with 57 seconds left.
Two incompletions and a sack by the Giants' Justin Tuck put New England in a 4th-and-16 hole with 36 seconds on the clock, but Brady kept hopes alive with a 19-yard strike to Deion Branch before hitting Aaron Hernandez for 11 yards to his team's 44-yard line.
The Patriots would cross midfield in the final seconds, but Brady misfired on three straight throws -- the last an end-zone Hail Mary that landed just out of the outstretched arms of injured All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"They made a few more plays than we did," said Belichick, who could have tied Hall of Famer Chuck Noll for most Super Bowl wins by a head coach with four.
Brady finished 27-of-41 for 276 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, establishing a new Super Bowl record with 16 consecutive completions at one point. However, the three-time champion quarterback was just 7-of-19 for 75 yards as New England went scoreless on its final four possessions.
Gronkowski, a question mark heading into the game after suffering a high ankle sprain in New England's 23-20 win over Baltimore in the AFC Championship, did play but wasn't much of a factor. The NFL's receiving touchdown leader made just two catches totaling 26 yards.
"I was good," said Gronkowski about the injury. "I was 100 percent out there, doing everything they asked me to do."
Aaron Hernandez topped New England with eight receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown, while Nicks led all players with 10 catches and 109 receiving yards.
It was the third straight time Manning prevailed in a quarterback duel with Brady, a three-time league MVP who was attempting to become only the third field general in NFL history to win four Super Bowls, along with Bradshaw and Montana. In addition to his memorable performance against New England in Super Bowl XLII, in which he organized a 12-play, 83-yard go-ahead touchdown drive in the final minutes, Manning led an 80-yard drive that ended with a scoring pass to tight end Jake Ballard with only 15 seconds remaining in a 24-20 triumph over the Patriots during Week 9 of this regular season.
After Sunday's performance, Manning has put together seven fourth-quarter comebacks this season.
"We've won so many games like this, though, at the end of the game, the fourth quarter," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin remarked. "We talk about finishing all the time and winning the fourth quarter, being the stronger team, making the plays in the fourth quarter. It happened again tonight."
Brady's night ended badly and started out rough as well, having been flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone on New England's opening play from scrimmage to give the Giants a safety. The Patriots mustered just 69 total yards over their initial three drives in falling behind by a 9-3 score late in the first half.
He would catch fire on New England's final possession before intermission, however, expertly directing a 14-play, 96-yarddrive culminating in a four- yard strike to running back Danny Woodhead with just eight seconds remaining that staked the Patriots to a 10-9 lead at the break.
Brady was a perfect 10-for-10 on the drive, highlighted by four completions to Hernandez and a 20-yard delivery to Gronkowski for the tight end's first catch of the night.
Brady kept up his precise passing after halftime, making good on all five of his throws on an eight-play, 79-yard jaunt that increased New England's advantage to eight points. He began by connecting with Chad Ochocinco for a 21-yard gain and ended it with a 12-yard pass to Hernandez, who eluded linebacker Chase Blackburn and raced across the goal line for a 17-9 lead 3:40 into the third quarter.
The Giants would get back to within 17-15 after capping back-to-back drives with Lawrence Tynes field goals, getting inside New England's 25-yard line both times before the Patriots came up with key stops, including a third-down sack of Manning by linebacker Rob Ninkovich on the second series.
Brady was intercepted by Blackburn on the ensuing drive, with the in-season addition outleaping Gronkowski on a deep pass at New York's eight-yard line, and the Patriots' defense missed an opportunity to come up with a big play of its own when Bradshaw fumbled deep in Giants' territory but offensive lineman Chris Snee fell on the loose ball.
Manning was on point from the get-go, hitting on his first nine attempts to set a Super Bowl mark for most consecutive completions to begin a game. The last one of that sequence came on a 2nd-and-goal from the New England two-yard line, when he found Victor Cruz in the middle of the end zone for a 9-0 New York lead with 3:24 left in the first quarter.
Two plays earlier, Cruz was stripped by Sterling Moore at the seven-yard line and the Patriots' Brandon Spikes recovered the fumble, but New England was penalized for having 12 men on the field.
New York's defense made a statement early on, with Tuck getting pressure on Brady and forcing the veteran quarterback to heave the ball well past his receivers from the end zone. Referee John Parry ruled the play as grounding, putting the Patriots in a 2-0 hole with 8:52 left in the opening period.
"It is a referee's judgement call," said Brady afterward. "I was looking down the middle of the field and Tuck was looking to come get me and I tried to get rid of it."
A 10-play, 60-yard drive that ended with Stephen Gostkowski's 29-yard field goal just over a minute into the second quarter got the Patriots on the scoreboard, and the teams traded punts until New England's mammoth 96-yard touchdown march near the end of the half, which tied a Super Bowl record.
This was the second Super Bowl in which a safety was the first scoring play, with Pittsburgh achieving the feat against Minnesota in Super Bowl IX...Brady's 16 straight completions bettered Montana's previous mark of 13 in a row from Super Bowl XXIV...Manning's nine consecutive completions to start the game bested former Giant Phil Simms' record of seven straight in New York's victory over Denver in Super Bowl XXI...New York has trailed in the second half in all five of its Super Bowl appearances and is 4-1 in those games...Giants backup tight end Travis Beckum sustained a torn right ACL in the second quarter, while Ballard left in the fourth with a left knee injury...New York lost the coin toss, ending a streak of 14 consecutive Super Bowls in which the NFC representative had won...The Patriots are 22-4 against NFC opponents since 2006, with three of those losses coming to the Giants (1-3)...New York is also one of only two teams with a winning record (3-2) against New England during the Brady/Belichick era, along with Denver (6-4)...Patriots defensive end Alex Silvestro, signed off the team's practice squad on Saturday, was active for the game. New England waived wide receiver Tiquan Underwood to make room on the roster.
02/06 00:39:15 ET
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