By: Steve Balestrieri
The New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday night in Indianapolis. It was another bitter pill to swallow for Bill Belichick and Co. as they have twice lost on late touchdowns to the Giants in the past four years.
But unlike four years ago, where the Giants clearly dominated the game, this one was closely played and was a very even contest. The difference was that the Giants made the big plays at critical times and the Patriots did not. That big play scenario was the hallmark all season of this Patriots team; that they would make the plays that they needed to do at the critical time. The Giants however did all of those things on Sunday night and that’s why they are Super Bowl Champions.
Most people are pointing at the Wes Welker drop on 2nd and 11 with less than four minutes to go at midfield as the biggest mistake and that may be true. With the Patriots holding a slim two point lead, with the ball at midfield, Welker blew by the coverage and was wide open at the 20 yard line.
Had Brady and he connected, the Patriots are in easy FG range at the minimum and force the Giants to burn their last timeout. While far from a perfectly thrown ball by Tom Brady, it was one that was very catchable for Welker. And it’s one that we’ve seen him make countless times. Bottom line is, at crunch time you have to make that catch. Welker didn’t, but he was not alone as both Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez had drops late in the game as well.
Contrast that to the first down play of the Giants on the ensuing drive at the Giants 12 yard line when Eli Manning threw a 38 yard perfectly thrown bomb to Mario Manningham down the sideline. Manningham was bracketed both underneath and over the top. If the ball is under thrown or overthrown there is a real chance of it being intercepted. But Manning put it in there beautifully and the play was virtually indefensible. Credit Manningham with making a wonderful; highlight reel catch while dragging his feet (toes) just barely to stay inbounds.
The Patriots forced three fumbles but weren’t able to capitalize on any of them. One they recovered but were called for having too many men on the field, the other two the Giants recovered. Again it was the Giants making the big play recovering the fumbles, an area where the Patriots shined in all season.
On the Giants first touchdown, the Patriots were in a perfect formation to defend it. Jerod Mayo was sliding over to exactly the point where Manning was going to throw the ball to Cruz. Had he looked back into the pocket, he had only to sit on the route and has a perfect opportunity to intercept the pass. But he didn’t, instead overran the play and had the ball actually go behind him for the touchdown.
Contrast that to the superb interception by Chase Blackburn deep down field inside the Giants ten yard line. Brady had Gronkowski open, and threw a jump ball that Blackburn made a great grab on, coming up with a huge interception. This was at a time where the Patriots had they scored then, would have taken a commanding lead. Blackburn’s interception was a huge turnaround in momentum.
But perhaps the biggest play was the one that didn’t get called. Much was made of the fact that the Giants defense was susceptible to the hurry up offense. The Patriots used it as one of its biggest weapons, keeping opponents off-balance and not allowing them to freely substitute, wearing them down. Yet the Patriots ran hurry up for only 9 of 62 offensive plays. Why? There is no good reason to let the Giants defense freely substitute and get its matchups straightened out. There were plenty of times where this would have worked to their competitive advantage.
The Giants coaches admitted after the game that they were surprised that the Patriots didn’t run it more. That has to be looked upon as a failure for the coaching staff as a whole there. Because the Giants defense never had the look of a unit that was getting gassed in the final going as we’ve seen so often this season. Not coincidentally, the Patriots scored zero points the final 25 minutes of the game.
Give the Giants all the kudos, they deserved them, when there was pivotal moments of the game, they stepped up and made the plays. They deserved the win, the Pats can only shake their heads and wonder what happened to a game they came so close to winning and fell short.