The more some things change, the more they stand pat.
Long gone from the current New York Giants’ roster are some of their key Super Bowl XLII heroes.
Yet, just like New York’s shocking Super Bowl upset of the then-undefeated New England Patriots in 2008, a similar formula helped New York rally past New England again, 24-20, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Sunday in the teams’ first non-preseason meeting since Super Bowl XLII.
As with their historic 17-14 Super Bowl win over the Patriots 3½ seasons ago, a pressuring defense that battered quarterback Tom Brady just long enough, a late heave and prayer that was answered for quarterback Eli Manning, and ex-Giant David Tyree’s old Giants uniform number (if not Tyree himself this time) all factored in another big Giant victory over the Patriots.
Speaking of things remaining constant, the Giants (6-2) played in a game decided in the final nine minutes for the sixth straight time. And, for the fifth time in that span, New York won – even without leading receiver Hakeem Nicks, leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw, and starting center David Bass, all of whom were all out with injuries on Sunday.
Something that did change was the ability of Brady and the Patriots (5-3) to win a regular season home game, as New York simultaneously ended New England’s 20-game regular season home win streak and Brady’s 31-game regular season home win streak as a starter.
It all sounds pretty exciting, that is if you skipped a rather uneventful first half, which ended in a scoreless tie on Sunday. That oddity was the first game without a first half score in the NFL this season, the first such half for New England in 18 years, and the first for New York in seven years.
The Giants couldn’t get much going offensively in the opening half, punting on all six first-half possessions while totaling just 95 yards and sustaining a drive of no more than eight plays or 32 yards.
The Patriots, meanwhile, had their own struggles, punting four times and failing to score despite managing a couple of good drives in the opening half.
Including completions of 11 and 25 yards, Brady (28-49, 340 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 2 sacks) directed New England’s third possession of the game 54 yards on seven plays to the New York 32-yard line, but he was intercepted by linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka (who also led New York with nine tackles) at the Giants’ 29-yard line off of a deflection by linebacker Michael Boley (7 tackles, 1 sack).
Three drives later, on the Patriots’ final possession of the half, Brady completed six straight passes to help New England go 83 yards on 12 plays, but only to have kicker Stephen Gostkowski miss a chip-shot 27-yard field goal attempt wide left with three seconds left in the half.
Three plays into the second half, safety Deon Grant (4 tackles, 1 INT) intercepted Brady at the Giants’ 39-yard line, juggling the ball, then cradling it against his left hip after he nearly lost it to tight end Ron Gronkowski (8 catches, 101 yards 1 TD).
Two plays later, Manning (20-39, 250 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 0 sacks) began to finally move the Giants downfield, completing consecutive passes of 18 yards to wide receiver Victor Cruz (6 catches, 91 yards) and 30 yards to tight end Jake Ballard (4 catches, 67 yards, 1 TD) to quickly take New York to the New England 11-yard line.
The drive stalled from that point, but kicker Lawrence Tynes booted a 22-yard field goal for the game’s first points with 10:09 left in the third quarter.
While Grant’s pick resulted in the first score of the game, another Brady turnover just three plays later led to the game’s first touchdown, after Brady was hit by Boley. The ball popped into the air and into the waiting arms of rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) at the Patriots’ 10-yard line.
Running back Brandon Jacobs (18 carries, 72 yards, 1 TD), who was booed at home last week for his underwhelming performance, scored on a 10-yard touchdown run up the middle on the next play, and after more than 34 minutes of scoreless football, the Giants had ten points in a span of just 54 seconds, and a 10-0 lead with 9:15 left in the period.
Helped by New York’s first turnover, New England answered with a field goal on the first of four consecutive scoring drives after the Patriots failed to score on their first eight possessions.
The Giants forced a three-and-out after which Brady and the Patriots’ offense heard some rare jeers from their home crowd. But, Rob Ninkovich pounced on a muffed punt by Aaron Ross at the New York 33-yard line to ultimately set up a 32-yard field goal by Gostkowski that cut the Giants’ lead to 10-3 with 5:29 left in the quarter.
A couple of Giant rookies then gave New York the same type of break New England had just received, and the Giants embarked on the longest drive of the game (94 yards, on eight plays), but only to come up empty.
Rookie Tyler Sash forced a fumble by Julian Edelman (who was embroiled in damaging off-the-field publicity regarding a sexual assault charge earlier in the week) following a New York three-and-out and fellow rookie Spencer Paysinger recovered the loose ball at the New England 40-yard line.
Manning then hit on consecutive passes of 23 yards to Cruz and 15 yards to wide receiver Ramses Barden (2 catches, 24 yards). But, seldom-used veteran wide receiver Mark Clayton stepped out of bounds in the back of the end zone spoiling what would have been an easy two-yard touchdown reception.
After a delay of game penalty changed the Giants’ plan of attack, Manning was later intercepted on a nice grab by ex-Hofstra star Kyle Arrington (2 catches, 1 INT), who made a leaping grab, reaching back and in front of wide receiver Mario Manningham (3 catches, 33 yards) in the end zone.
New England turned that opportunity into its first touchdown while reaching three different milestones along the way. A seven-play, 80-yard drive began with a Brady completion to Gronkowski that gave Brady 37,278 career passing yards to move him past Minnesota quarterback Donovan McNabb and into 16th place all-time.
Over the next three plays, Brady connected with slot wide receiver Wes Welker (9 catches 136 yards) on completions of 27 and 28 yards. The second of those receptions gave Welker his 20th career 100-yard game.
Two plays later, Brady threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez (4 catches, 35 yards, 1 TD) to extend Brady’s Patriot record to 24 straight games with a touchdown pass. More importantly, the score tied the game, 10-10, with 14:28 left.
New York then punted and Brady went to work again, completing a 27-yard pass to Gronkowski on the second play of a nine-play, 53-yard drive that ended with a 45-yard field goal by Gostkowski. That gave New England its first lead, 13-10, with 7:08 remaining.
The teams then traded touchdown drives in a frantic finish that was reminiscent of the Giants outscoring the Patriots 14-7 in the final 11:05 in Super Bowl XLII in Arizona.
Arrington was flagged for a 35-yard pass interference call against Manningham that moved the ball to the Patriots’ 40-yard line. Five plays later, Manning capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive by throwing a great pass for a 10-yard touchdown to Manningham. The score came on a fade route to the far left corner of the end zone over the top of tight coverage by Arrington, to put New York back in front, 17-13, with 3:03 left.
However, trying desperately to protect their NFL-record streaks at home and seeking to avoid a second straight loss, Brady and the Patriots certainly wouldn’t go quietly.
Brady started a nine-play, 64-yard scoring drive by reaching yet another milestone, completing a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Deion Branch (2 catches, 21 yards) to extend his Patriots’ record to a 39th career 300-yard passing game.
Later, four plays after a 19-yard completion to Gronkowski, Brady went back to Gronkowski for a 14-yard touchdown pass over the middle on 4th-and-9 to give the Patriots their final lead, 20-17, with 1:36 remaining.
But, as Manning, Super Bowl XLII’s Most Valuable Player pointed out, Brady and the Patriots weren’t the only ones who were capable of coming through in the clutch on Sunday.
“We’ve been pretty good at two-minute situations ourselves,” Manning said.
Leading the Giants’ offense on a second straight drive of eight plays and 80 yards, Manning proved exactly that, with a little more help from the Patriots’ defense.
Manning started the drive with a 19-yard strike to Cruz before coming back to Ballard, who made a brilliant, twisting grab in traffic on 3rd-and-10 for a 28-yard completion to the Patriots’ 33-yard line.
After Manning scrambled for a 12-yard gain to the New England 21-yard line on first down, Cruz drew a 20-yard pass interference call on safety Sergio Brown along the left sideline.
Although they were far simpler in nature, Ballard’s catch, especially, and Manning’s fling to draw a key flag, each prompted thoughts of the desperation throw Manning made that ended with Tyree’s legendary helmet catch made during New York’s game-winning drive toward the end final of Super Bowl XLII.
The penalty on Brown gave the Giants a 1st-and-goal with 35 seconds remaining – the exact amount of time left when Manning threw his game-winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLII to former Giant wide receiver Plaxico Burress.
Three plays later, on 3rd-and-goal, after the Giants had been just 1-for-11 on third downs for the game, Manning threw a one-yard touchdown pass to none other than Ballard – who wears the same number 85 worn by Tyree as a Giant – to win the game with just 15 seconds left.
Defensive end Justin Tuck (2 tackles), who led New York with two of its five sacks of Brady in Super Bowl XLII, recalled that game after the Giants’ latest victory over the same team.
“To [win] the way we did [today], it brings back memories,” Tuck said.
And, while few still believe Manning is a better quarterback than Brady, another late win over the Patriots with Manning at the controls backed up Manning’s bold words from the preseason when the Giants’ super-clutch quarterback answered ESPN radio (New York) talk show host Michael Kay with the confident confirmation that he considered himself to be among an elite class of NFL quarterbacks on par with Brady.
Tuck is certainly one believer, saying that Manning seems to be proving those earlier comments true while adding, “We don’t even get nervous anymore. It’s like we expect him to go down and get a touchdown. Honestly, on the sideline, I wasn’t even watching the game… and I was just kind of like, ‘Eli’s going to get them again.’ You don’t even think about it. You just have that confidence.”
The Giants will need that self-assurance and more as Sunday’s trip to New England merely kicked off what is expected to continue as a severely challenging stretch of the regular season for New York over the next several weeks.
Next up, New York will try to stop the 49ers’six-game win streak in San Francisco next Sunday at 4:15 pm ET. But maybe dong that doesn’t seem quite as daunting anymore after ending the much longer home streaks of Brady and New England.