The New York Giants moved into rarified air as they captured their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history in a dramatic 21-17 win over the New England Patriots.
Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning earned the second Most Valuable Player award of his career as he went 30-of-40 for 296 yards and one touchdown and hit eight different receivers. And unlike his counterpart Tom Brady, he didn’t commit a turnover, raising his postseason ratio to nine touchdowns and just one interception.
Manning showed his championship mettle as he took the Giants down the field on the game-winning drive. The biggest play was a Manning to Mario Manningham 38-yarder down the left sidelines that put the ball at midfield and gave the Giants a huge boost. The play was upheld by replay, which also took away a crucial timeout from the Patriots after the replay challenge didn’t go their way. The huge play led up to Ahmad Bradshaw’s six-yard touchdown run with 57 seconds remaining for the eventual game-winning points.
Bradshaw, who finished with a game-high 72 yards on 17 carries, was overcome with emotion when recalling his game-winning score immediately after the game.
“Oh, man, it was the best feeling in the world,” Bradshaw said. “I’m just so happy to be here with my team and my family. … These were two of the greatest teams in the NFL and I’m happy to have won it.”
Manning is about as polished, some say robotic, as they come so it was no surprise that he wanted to dole out kudos to everyone but himself.
“It just feels great. It was a great game with two great teams,” he said. “I’m happy for the guys. I’m happy for everyone in this organization [especially] coach Coughlin. I feel great for the new guys [because] some of them are getting their first one.”
What Manning’s greatness also managed to do was put to rest all those questions about being elite as he’s now dethroned Brady in the Super Bowl twice in the last four seasons. He also gave the Giants their fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy to match four other franchises (Steelers, 49ers, Packers and Cowboys) with at least as many.
Manning got off to torrid start as he began the game 9-of-9, which was a Super Bowl record for the best start ever by a quarterback. His hot start helped the Giants get off to a fast 9-0 lead. And while Tom Brady erased that deficit to end the first half up 10-9, it was Manning’s second half that was phenomenal.
His nine-play, 88-yard game-winning drive in just 2:49 was the stuff Brady was used to doing. Manning was judicial with the ball but his favorite target was Hakeem Nicks, who tallied a game-high 10 catches for 109 yards.
Brady finished 27-of-41 with 276 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and set a Super Bowl record for consecutive completions with 16, breaking his childhood idol Joe Montana’s mark of 13. He also erased an early 9-0 first-half deficit to rattle off 17 straight points to take the lead. The future Hall of Famer was just as giving as Manning as he targeted seven different receivers, led by tight end Aaron Hernandez (eight receptions, 67 yard and a touchdown) and wideout Wes Welker (seven catches for 60 yards).
The Patriots’ other tight end, Rob Gronkowski, was severely limited by both a high-ankle sprain and the Giants’ aggressive defense, as he was held to two catches for 26 yards on only three targets. The man known as “Gronk” usually tallies three catches in one drive, so it was a testament to Big Blue’s defense in limiting his touches.
One Giant in particular who had success was linebacker Chase Blackburn. The veteran wasn’t re-signed last summer and sat home until late in the season when the Giants called his number again. He rewarded them with an interception in his first game back, versus the Packers, and was the one guy who rallied all phases of the team, as he’s also a special teams maven.
Blackburn was responsible for arguably the biggest play of the game when he boxed out the 6-foot-6 Gronkowski on a jumpball from Brady and intercepted the pass at the Giants’ 8-yard line in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Had Gronkowski come up with the reception there’s no telling how the game would’ve turned out as the Patriots were up 17-15 and driving for more.
“This game was everything I expected, as I’ve been here before. It was a physical game,” said Blackburn, adding he did everything he could to outmuscle the larger Gronkowski. “I just wanted to box him out and get to the high point of the ball. I felt like I had a bead on it and I just made the play on the ball. … It was a man-to-man check and I had the vertical [route] on him. And when Tom Brady got out of the sack I knew his receivers would go deep so fortunately I was able to make the play.”
Manning was the biggest playmaker on the field when it mattered most as he was the one leading Big Blue to yet another fourth-quarter comeback this year. It was also the second time he was responsible for such a late-game drive to dispatch the Patriots this season.
Ultimately it came down to execution. And while Manning earned his second Super Bowl, one more than older brother Peyton, he also beat Brady for a second time in four years in the Super Bowl and temporarily kept the future Hall of Famer from joining an elite Super Bowl-winning list of quarterbacks with four rings (Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw).
The questions of whether Manning is elite died for good in Indianapolis.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.