Four years ago, the New York Giants prevented history.
On Sunday night, they made it.
Just as they did in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants rallied with a last-minute touchdown, scoring the final 12 points to steal Super Bowl XLVI from the New England Patriots, 21-17, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The last time New York did something like that, it was a heavy underdog, stopping New England just 35 seconds short of being the first team to complete a perfect 19-0 season.
This time, the Giants (13-7) became the first team with more than six losses in a season to win a Super Bowl; the first to do so after suffering a four-game losing streak; and the first franchise to win a Super Bowl in four different decades.
The victory, New York’s sixth straight to close the season, put a stamp on a recurring refrain that carried the Giants from the brink of playoff elimination following a disappointing Week 15 home loss to Washington, to their second Super Bowl title in five years, their fourth overall, and their eight NFL championship.
Once again, New York proved it’s not always what you do earlier, it’s how you finish that counts.
After the win, Tom Coughlin, who at 65, became the oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl, told former Super Bowl MVP quarterback and three-time Super Bowl champion, analyst Steve Young on ESPN, “Finish was our main theme.”
Giants’ co-owner, team president, and CEO John Mara echoed that sentiment on NBC-TV, saying “All season long, our motto was ‘Finish, finish, finish. And tonight, we finished.”
Unlike last season, when the Giants blew a 21-point lead with a half-quarter left in a late-season home loss to Philadelphia that ultimately cost them a division title and a trip to the postseason.
Ever since then, putting the finishing touches on a season that began with a 6-2 start, before a stretch of five losses in six games, developed as the primary focus in New York’s latest magical carpet ride toward capturing football’s biggest prize.
Above all else, the Giants’ Coughlin-inspired resiliency made their championship possible, and it all started with having faith that despite a rash of key pre-season injuries and the prospect of facing the NFL’s most difficult second-half schedule, they would be on top in the end.
“All things are possible for those who believe,” said Coughlin, whose job was in jeopardy just prior to his team’s season-concluding winning streak.
Defensive end Justin Tuck (3 tackles, 2 sacks) similarly said on ESPN, “It’s amazing what you can do when you believe.”
The Giants had good reason to trust in fulfilling their own destiny, because after overcoming several bad calls and tough breaks to win in recent weeks, they had a few fortunate things go their way for a second straight game, to help them out in their title quest.
Yet, they still needed some late heroics to follow through on Coughlin’s “finish” mantra.
Leave it to the brother of a quarterback who helped build the stadium that hosted Sunday night’s Super Bowl, and a receiver whose name begins with that of both of those players, to rise to the occasion as Giant heroes.
Indianapolis Colts’ future hall of fame quarterback Peyton Manning’s exploits of a storied career were as responsible as anything for Lucas Oil Stadium being built.
But, it was his young brother, quarterback Eli Manning (30-40, 296, 1 TD, 0 INT, 3 sacks), who surpassed his older brother with a second Super Bowl MVP by leading the Giants on another game-winning, fourth-quarter drive, aided by wide receiver Mario Manningham (5 catches, 73 yards), to dash the Patriots dreams and lift the Giants to another memorable Super Bowl ending.
Long before that, New York dominated at the start, running 19 of the game’s first 20 plays while scoring the first nine points.
The Patriots (15-4) deferred the opening kickoff, and after letting the Giants move 35 yards on ten plays, sacked Manning twice in three plays to take New York out of field goal range and force a punt.
Punter Steve Weatherford (4 punts, 3 inside the 20-yard line), pinned New England at its own 6-yard line, to immediately spell trouble for the Patriots, as two-time Super Bowl MVP and three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady (27-41, 276 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 2 sacks) was called for an unusual intentional grounding penalty on the next play.
Brady threw deep downfield with only the midfield “NFL” logo as his closest receiver. The pass errant pass, which landed at the New England 44-yard line, resulted in a safety and 2-0 Giants’ lead with 8:52 left in the opening quarter.
With the help of a costly Patriot blunder, the Giants extended their lead on the ensuing drive.
Manning, who started the game with a Super Bowl-record nine straight completions, connected on five consecutive passes, that last of which was a grab for a first down by wide receiver Victor Cruz (4 catches, 25 yards, 2 TD) to the New England 7-yard line.
Cruz was stripped on the play by linebacker Brandon Spikes (11 tackles), and the ball was recovered by the Patriots, but what would have been New York’s only turnover, was nullified by New England being flagged for having 12 players on the field.
Two plays later, Manning hit Cruz on a two-yard juggling touchdown pass over the middle to extend the Giants’ lead to 9-0 with 3:24 remaining in the period.
Brady, who later set a new Super Bowl record with 16 straight completions, successfully found four consecutive receivers before throwing incomplete on 3rd-and-4 from the New York 11-yard line, causing the Patriots to settle for a 29-yard field goal by kicker Stephen Gostkowski that trimmed the Giants’ lead to 9-3, with 13:48 to go before halftime.
New York then punted twice and New England once before the Patriots took the lead on a Super Bowl record-tying 96-yard drive (in 14 plays) as Brady completed all ten of his passes, including a 4-yard touchdown toss to running back Danny Woodhead (7 carries, 18 yards; 4 catches, 42 yards), his first touchdown grab of the season, to give the Patriots their first lead, 10-9, just eight seconds before halftime.
From there, New England’s offense picked up where it left off as the second half began, with Brady completing all five of his passes during an eight-play, 79-yard trip that concluded with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Brady to tight end Aaron Hernandez (8 catches, 67 yards, 1 TD), to push the Patriots’ lead to 17-9, with 11:40 left in the third quarter.
Completing five of seven passes, Manning rallied the Giants with a ten-play, 45-yard drive that ended with a 38-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes, which pulled New York to within 17-12, with 6:43 remaining in the period.
A Patriot three-and-out followed, leading to another field goal drive for the Giants, who took over at the Patriots’ 48-yard line (New York’s best starting field position of the game) and fumbled two plays later, as wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (game highs of ten catches and 109 yards) coughed up the ball at the New England 30-yard line after a 17-yard reception.
Fullback Henry Hynoski was in the right place at the right time though, and the Giants were able to go from the Patriots’ 33-yard line to their 9-yard line, before a sack of Manning forced New York to be happy with a Tynes 33-yard field goal and a 17-15 deficit with 35 seconds to go in the quarter.
Five plays into the next possession, defensive tackle Linval Joseph forced pressure on Brady who threw downfield, but on an underthrown pass, linebacker Chase Blackburn (who was resigned late in the season by New York while preparing to be a math teacher), was surprisingly playing deep enough to jump in front of tight end Rob Gronkowski (2 catches, 26 yards) and pull down an interception at the Giants’ 8-yard line.
New England very nearly got the ball right back, two plays later, as running back Ahmad Bradshaw (17 carries, 72 yards) fumbled after a five-yard gain, but right guard Chris Snee recovered at the New York 11-yard line.
Having escaped potential disaster, the Giants finished the rest of the ten-play, 51-yard possession with a Weatherford punt that went out of bounds at the Patriots’ 8-yard line, after Coughlin was irate at a non-call on cornerback Sterling Moore (3 tackles), who seemed to have his left hand on Manningham’s shoulder a little early on a third-down incompletion just outside the New England 30-yard line.
Marching to the New York 43-yard line, Brady found wide receiver Wes Welker (7 catches, 60 yards) open along the left side on a 2nd-down pass that the talented Welker (the Patriots’ leading receiver this season) would have normally caught.
Leaping and twisting, Welker couldn’t hang on to the ball at the Giants’ 21-yard line.
Wide receiver Deion Branch (3 catches, 45 yards) then dropped a catchable but slightly off-target pass by Brady over the middle, on the next play, to force a Patriots’ punt.
That set up a similar ending to the last time New York and New England met in a Super Bowl.
Back then, Manning led the Giants on a 12-play, 88-yard game-winning drive that included a miracle catch by ex-Giant wide receiver David Tyree.
Although a huge catch this time wasn’t quite as extraordinary, a reception by Manningham on the first play of the possession was still one for the ages, as Manning couldn’t find anyone to his right, before looking left.
He found Manningham though, on a perfectly placed ball up the left sideline.
Between Moore and safety Patrick Chung, Manningham pulled in a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch before barely getting both feet inbounds for a 38-yard gain to midfield.
“They’re two remarkable catches,” Coughlin said, comparing Tyree’s to Manningham’s. “David’s was forever etched in NFL history, and this one follows in that fashion,” while Manning added that Manningham’s catch was “a big, big-time play.”
Manningham caught two more passes, for 16 and two yards, after an incompletion, and Nicks made a 14-yard reception to the Patriots’ 18-yard line.
Four plays later, New England, having already burned a timeout to challenge Manningham’s earlier 38-yard catch, allowed Bradshaw to score with the hopes of getting the ball back with enough time for Brady to mount a final comeback.
Although Manning instructed Bradshaw in the huddle to take a knee, Bradshaw’s momentum carried him backwards, into the end zone after he tried to stop short of the goal line on first down.
“I was taking a handoff and Eli was saying, ‘Don’t score, don’t score,’ ” Bradshaw explained. “I tried to declare myself down and touch down with my hand. They didn’t call it and my momentum took me into the end zone.”
“You know what?” he laughed. “That could be the [biggest] run of my career, and there wasn’t even anybody trying to stop me.”
The score gave New York a 21-17 lead with 57 seconds left. The Giants couldn’t convert on a two-point rushing attempt, but it didn’t matter, as their defense made one final championship-saving stop.
New England drove 29 yards to its own 49-yard line, setting up a desperation heave into the end zone by Brady. The pass was knocked down by safety Kenny Phillips as Gronkowski (one of the Patriots’ best receivers, limited by badly sprained ankle) dove in vain for the ball after it was deflected.
“That ball seemed like it was in the end zone for four years,” Tuck said.
But, once it hit the ground, it was just like nearly half a decade earlier for the upstart Giants, who in addition to ending the Patriots’ NFL-record 20-game regular season home winning streak with a Week 9 win in New England, again took down the top-seeded Patriots with a Super Bowl title on the line.
The catches by Tyree and Manningham were only one of several parallels between the Giants’ last two Super Bowl-winning seasons.
In 2007, the Giants were 10-6 and a five seed; this year, they were 9-7 and seeded fourth; this year, New York ended New England’s ten-game winning streak – still long, if not the 18-game streak the Giants stopped in Super Bowl XLII.
Prior to winning it all four years ago, an inconsistent Giants team gained confidence from a 38-35 home loss to the Patriots in the final week of the regular season; this year, it was a 38-35 home loss to again, the league’s best team (then-undefeated Green Bay, in Week 13).
New York won in Green Bay in the 2007 NFC title game to reach the Super Bowl; this season, the Giants had a huge upset in Green Bay in the divisional round.
Tynes also kicked New York into the Super Bowl with an NFC title game, overtime field goal in both seasons.
And, of course there was Manning leading the way in the final minutes, with the Giants each time, scoring within the final minute to rally from behind and upset the Patriots to capture a Super Bowl title.
Keeping Brady off of the field was a big factor this time around, as the Giants controlled the ball for 37:05 to the Patriots’ 22:55.
Much of that was in the first half, yet it didn’t show on the scoreboard.
Coughlin warned his team at halftime, “We’re better than the way we played in the first half… if we’re not hungrier than them, and willing to demonstrate a greater purpose, then we’re not going to be there at the end.”
And, of course, they were.
Thanks to their quarterback and their defense, mostly.
Or, as Tuck said, “I don’t think could have written a better script. It’s just a fitting that it comes down to a drive by Eli and a final closeout by our defense.”
Regardless of their rather mediocre regular season record, the Giants pulled together enough to win what every other team in the league, even those who had the best regular season records – like the Patriots –coveted.
“They trusted in one another and believed in one another, and the rest is history,” said Coughlin.
For the Giants, it was history repeating itself in the most satisfying of ways.