Just like in Super Bowl XLII. Just like in Week 9 of the 2011 regular season. Manning’s mastery over the Patriots continued Sunday with New York’s 21-17 victory in Super Bowl XLVI.
Playing on the field where his brother Peyton has forged a Hall of Fame career for the Indianapolis Colts, Eli worked the magic that has helped him carve his own niche in NFL history. He won a second Super Bowl MVP award by completing 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and one touchdown.
“This isn’t about one person,” said Manning, who has long shied from accepting individual praise. “This is about a whole team coming together to get this win.
“I’m just proud of our guys and how we fought all year. We never got discouraged. We kept faith and confidence and fought to the end.”
New York needed that resolve to keep Brady and head coach Bill Belichick from winning their fourth Super Bowl title. The Patriots had overcome an early nine-point deficit to take a 17-15 lead deep into the fourth quarter.
That’s when Manning made a clutch throw that will rank in NFL lore with his miraculous Super Bowl XLII completion to David Tyree.
With the Giants pinned at their own 12-yard line following a Patriots punt, Manning noticed that Patriots safety Patrick Chung was cheating forward toward the middle of the field. Manning heaved a perfect 38-yard sideline pass to wide receiver Mario Manningham between Chung and defensive back Sterling Moore.
Manningham had failed to keep both his feet inbounds on a pass deep inside Patriots territory earlier in the quarter. This time, Manningham walked the tight rope before being pushed out of bounds in front of Belichick.
“We knew big plays were going to come,” said Manningham, who registered the game’s longest play from scrimmage on that catch. “We just had to take advantage of it.”
The soft zone coverage that Belichick had effectively used as his defensive game plan finally began to crack. Manning drove the Giants to the New England 6 when Belichick raised the red flag, telling his defense to let running back Ahmad Bradshaw score so Brady would get roughly one minute to stage a comeback.
Belichick thought that gambit provided a better chance for New England to win rather than allowing New York to run down the clock and attempt a short Lawrence Tynes field goal.
The decision almost paid dividends. Brady lobbed a Hail Mary from midfield as time expired, but the ball was batted down as tight end Rob Gronkowski attempted to make a diving catch.
“If we make it, we’re world champs,” Brady said. “If not, we’re wishing we were.”
Brady didn’t “suck” Sunday like he had proclaimed after the AFC Championship game victory over Baltimore, but he was hot-and-cold. At one point, Brady set a Super Bowl record by completing 16 consecutive passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns to give New England a 17-9 lead early in the third quarter.
But Brady gave the Giants a safety on New England’s first offensive snap when flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone while being harassed by defensive end Justin Tuck. Brady also heaved an ill-advised pass to Gronkowski that was intercepted by linebacker Chase Blackburn early in the fourth quarter.
Gronkowski, the NFL’s top receiving tight end, was rendered ineffective because of the sprained left ankle he suffered against the Ravens. Wes Welker didn’t help matters, either. The normally sure-handed wideout had a fourth-quarter drop that led to New England being forced to punt and Manning getting the chance to lead the game-winning drive.
“There were some missed opportunities out there,” said Brady, whose team had won 10 straight games since losing at home to the Giants in October. “Everyone in the locker room wishes he could have done a little bit more and maybe the outcome would be different. We fought to the end. I’m very proud of that. We just came up a little short.”
The Giants were sold short throughout most of the season. They were 7-7 in December and on the verge of missing the playoffs. Team ownership was feeling public and media pressure to fire head coach Tom Coughlin.
Coughlin, though, never let the heat get to him. The Giants responded by winning the NFC East. They then dispatched the team with the conference’s best record (Green Bay) and returned to the road the following week to top San Francisco in the NFC Conference title game.
The similarities to how the 2007 Giants had followed a similar Super Bowl path were eerie. But this is now a Giants squad that has made its own name by vanquishing the Patriots once again.
“What I wanted was this team to make history for itself,” Coughlin said.
The one consistent throughout the entire year was Manning. As his brother Peyton struggled with a neck injury that will likely lead to his departure from the Colts and may even end his NFL career, Eli took the family mantle just like he carried New York’s offense.
Eli hadn’t spoken to Peyton immediately after the game ended, but their father couldn’t have been prouder.
“He played like a quarterback needed to play,” Archie Manning said.
Manning and the Giants have the Lombardi Trophy to prove it.