GLENDALE, Ariz. - Tom Brady is still the best quarterback in pro football. This loss doesn't change that. And a Manning is still No. 2.
But which Manning?
It was Eli's turn this time. Last year, big brother Peyton did what he was supposed to do, and his Indianapolis Colts beat Chicago. Last night, Eli did what few could have expected. He slayed the giant. Absolutely and incredibly. Wow. The Giants beat New England 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII.
It was a 14-yard pass from Manning to Plaxico Burress that did it, that sent the Patriots to a losing locker room for the first time in 19 games this season; that erased history in the making; that produced the biggest upset since another New York quarterback, Joe Namath, beat the Colts 39 years ago. Maybe it was bigger.
But the play that really did it came earlier. Four plays earlier. Four plays prior to Burress showing slant, Manning selling it with a quick pump fake, and Burress then twisting to the corner of the end zone to beat New England safety Ellis Hobbs with 35 seconds to play. Four plays before that.
The Patriots brought the house on a jailhouse blitz at the Giants' 44-yard line. One rusher spun Manning around, another had him by the jersey, and a third went to wrap him up. In the blink of an eye, he somehow escaped from that jail, from the football version of Alcatraz, ran out of it heading the wrong direction, regained his bearings, set his feet, and heaved the ball deep down the middle of the field. David Tyree, a receiver who had caught his first touchdown pass of the season earlier in the game, leaped against Pats' strong safety Rodney Harrison and squeezed the ball with his fingertips, pinned it against his own helmet, and somehow held on as he was flipped backwards to the ground.
It was an escape for the ages, a catch for the ages, and, four plays later, there came the touchdown that produced a win for the ages.
"I was just trying to avoid a sack and make a play," Manning said. "All you can do sometimes when you're caught like that is try to get small and see if you can find a hole to sneak through and try to make a throw, make a play. The ball hung up there forever it seemed. David made just an incredible catch. What a big-time play."
Added New York coach Tom Coughlin: "I mean, the pass was challenged. The ball caught by Tyree, it's not like he just jumped up in the air and caught it. That might be one of the greatest plays of all time in the Super Bowl."
A Manning was the Super Bowl MVP for the second straight year. But it could have been Tyree. And it probably should have been the entire Giant defense.
At the end, of course, it was two late touchdown drives, one by each team, that captured all the attention. But, as Burress said, "I tip my hat to our defense. If it hadn't been for those guys we wouldn't have even been in the game."
Make no mistake, Brady was discouraged. He was frustrated. He was hit over and over again. He was sacked, slapped, and spun around. If this was pro wrestling, the Giants would have added a chokehold and tried to gouge out his eyes.
The last time these teams met, and it was just a month ago in the final game of the regular season, the Patriots won 38-35. The Giants used that effort as a springboard for the playoff run that landed them here in the title game, but if they learned anything from the first encounter it was that, try as they might, an offensive display wasn't enough to get it done against New England.
So, this time, the Giants got defensive. At halftime, the Pats had all of 81 yards of offense and Brady had taken more hits than Google. He was sacked on back-to-back plays midway through the second quarter and the last time that happened may have been at Michigan. He was hit and fumbled on another blitz. Of course, New England led 7-3. You can't have everything, you know.
But the Giants never deviated from the plan. It was pressure, pressure and more pressure. The game ended with Brady being sacked five times and being hit 14 other times while delivering, or trying to deliver, the ball.
"We stopped the best offense in pro football," said Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, a champion for the first time in his 15-year career. "Of course they were surprised. There isn't a quarterback alive who can complete a pass from his back."
Even Tom Brady.
"They had some great pressure schemes and great pass rushers," Brady said. "We scored 14 points. What else needs to be said?"
Well, there was this from Pats linebacker Tedy Bruschi:
"All you can do is tip your hat to the other team and the job they did. They're the world champions."
Coughlin was there once before, as an assistant with the Giants when they won it all in 1990.
"Other than family and children, there's nothing that compares to the feeling of being champion," the Giants' coach said. "I think of Strahan getting a ring for the first time. I think of [punter Jeff] Feagles, 20 years in the league and finally being a part of this.
"Our defense played so well. Any time a team is 18-0 like the Patriots, well, that's just an incredible accomplishment. But we played great defense. And, you know, at the right moment, at the right time, in the right place, any team is beatable."