Eli Delivers… Again

5 02 2012

For the second time in the past five years, Eli Manning has shown Tom Brady how to win on the big stage.

In Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots, 21-17, giving Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin their second championship.

This game started off as oddly as possible. After the Giants punted on their first drive, the Patriots had to go 94 yards in order to score a touchdown. However, on the first play, Tom Brady took a three-step drop into his own end zone and slung the ball down field to… well, no one. Welker ran right and Brady threw left. Because of the pure emptiness around this ball’s landing spot, the referees called intentional grounding, resulting in a safety. This put the Patriots in an early hole that restrained them from breaking this game open when they outscored the Giants 17-0 during the middle of the game.

Throughout this battle, it became apparent that Ron Gronkowski was not himself. His injury did impact his play. Compared to his previous two playoff games, he had 86.7% fewer catches (2 receptions) and 88.8% less yards (26 receiving yards). The Giants defense did affect Gronkowski, but his injury played a larger role tonight.

By the time the fourth quarter had arrived and local commercials started to show up, America found itself feeling some deja vu. In 2008, New York faced a 14-10 deficit with 5:12 to go. In 2012, New York faced a 17-15 deficit with 3:46 to go. In 2008, Eli led the Giants 80 yards to take a 17-14 lead. In 2012, Eli led the Giants 88 yards to take a 21-17 lead. Even though Brady has one more ring than the younger Manning brother, Manning has twice out-dueled him in the closing minutes of the Super Bowl.

Awkwardness ensued on the last touchdown scored by Amare Bradshaw. After he broke through a suspicious hole leading to a clear path to the end zone, he attempted but failed to stop his momentum right before he entered the end zone, almost as if he realized the Patriots were giving him this touchdown so they could get the ball back with more time. This might have been the first time I’ve seen good, smart defense from a football team by giving up a touchdown.

Ahmad Bradshaw decided to take a seat in the end zone.

With 57 seconds left in the game, Tom Brady and the Patriots had one last chance to take this game away from the Giants. It couldn’t have started on a worse note. After two dropped passes from Branch and Hernandez, the Giants blitzed Brady and sacked him for a 6-yard loss. Brady did in fact convert this 4th-and-16, but just didn’t have enough time to make significant progress down the field. Once Brady threw a hail mary that was almost caught by Gronkowski off of a tip, the Giants officially became NFL champions.

Eli Manning received the Super Bowl MVP award. He finished the night throwing 30-for-40 for 296 yards and a touchdown. Even though Eli doesn’t have the standard demeanor of a franchise quarterback, his ability to take his play to another level when the game is on the line can not be debated.

The Giants now stand as the only team since the league went to a 16-game format in 1978 to win the Super Bowl with less than 10 regular season wins. (The only exception is the 1982 Washington Redskins (8-1) who only played 9 regular season games due to a lockout.) They won their 2008 Super Bowl in a very similar fashion, going 10-6 in the regular season and then scorching their way through the playoffs. As a Cowboys fan that has seen many mediocre and successful seasons go down the drain due to bad play in crunch time and important games, I respect the Giants ability to play their best when it matters most. (It also frustrates me, but I’ll keep those feelings to myself.)

This championship concludes the year of the “hot” teams. First, the Dallas Mavericks came together at just the right time as they took down the Lakers (the apparent favorite in the West) and the star-studded Heat on their way to a championship. Analysts still today don’t consider them to be the best team from last year’s playoffs – they simply “caught fire” for a few months. Then, once fall came around, the St. Louis Cardinals heated up. They finished the regular season on a 15-5 sprint to make it into the playoffs on the last day of regular season play. Right out of the gate, they defeated a Phillies team that had 102 wins coming into the playoffs. Other than the fans in Missouri, not many out there believed this could be done with the Phillies phenomenal pitching. They eventually went on to take down the Rangers in the World Series. The Giants simply followed suit with the way the three main American sport champions have attained triumph.

Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning have now cleared up any doubt whether their first championship was a fluke or not. Answer: it wasn’t. Manning made the right throws that needed to be made at the right time in the game while Coughlin made the right calls at the right time. Now, whether or not Eli is better than his bigger brother Peyton remains as a discussion for another time and another post.

These next few days will be special for the Giants executives, players, coaches and fans. Well-deserved celebration can begin as the stress of playing and watching football can come to a temporary close. Congratulations to the Super Bowl XLVI Champions – the New York Giants.

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