Posted 02/04/2008 at 01:25 PM
What a great game. Even ignoring the incredible historical context and implications, the highly anticipated Super Bowl delivered a dramatic and exciting game. Many people would prefer see more points on the board but excellent defense and a couple of great drives made for great football and the 4th quarter was absolutely thrilling.
The 32-yard 3rd down pass play from Eli Manning to David Tyree was simply one of the most incredible plays in the history of football given the setting and that will be a highlight reel staple for years to come. Several times in the game Manning did an excellent job of breaking out of the pocket and eluding the pass rush but his Houdini act on that play was amazing. The focus and concentration for Tyree to make the catch and hold on to the ball through a difficult landing was simply incredible. Given how huge of a play it was in a game-winning drive that certainly has to be on the short list of the greatest plays ever.
The controlled climate and the fast field was a big story going into the game and many looked towards the 'over' and expected a big aerial show from the Patriots but the biggest impact certainly was in the pass rush. The Giants did a great job of getting pressure on Tom Brady and the acclaimed unit that led the NFL in sacks lived up to its billing on the biggest stage. Brady was sacked just 21 times in the regular season and the Giants posted five big sacks as well as forcing a fumble and getting several hard shots on the quarterback. The Patriots also got decent pressure on Manning, but the maligned quarterback was able to scramble out of the pressure in a few instances and he avoided fumbling, although there were a few close calls.
Key moments in the game:
The Giants opening drive: New York won the toss and got the ball first and put together an incredible drive that set the tone for the game. New York converted four consecutive third down plays and methodically drove down the field. New York had to settle for field goal but the Giants took nearly ten minutes off the clock, shortening the game and delaying any momentum that the high-powered Patriots could have built early in the game. This was the longest drive in Super Bowl history and was such a critical key start for the Giants.
The Manning interception: Hard to blame the quarterback on this play, the throw came quicker than receive Steve Smith expected and was a bit low but a tough break deflection resulted in a big turnover. The Giants caught a big break to start this series with the kickoff going out of bounds and a big pass play to Amani Toomer had the Giants in scoring range again before the pick. The interception was a big play, but the Giants answer was the real story here. A good drive by the Patriots would have completely changed the game but after allowing eight yards on first down the Giants defense stuffed Laurence Maroney twice in a row and forced a punt. Somewhat conservative play calling from the Patriots on this drive could come into question in postgame analysis.
The Brady fumble: New England gets the ball back with less than two minutes on the clock and after a few plays the Patriots move into Giants territory. Time is running out and New England still needed a decent chunk of yardage for a field goal attempt but a big hit by Justin Tuck forces a fumble and steals any New England momentum going into halftime. Rather then taking a knee the Giants fire up two Hail Mary attempts, showing a lot of confidence in the offense and displaying the willingness to take some chances.
Opening drive of the second half: The fourth quarter drives will get much more attention but this may have been the most important drive of the game. With a lead the Patriots put together a few plays but are forced to punt near midfield. The Giants have a late substitution and leave too many men on the field on the play. The penalty is not called but a coaches challenge is won by the Patriots. This is a potential back-breaker for the Giants, giving New England a second opportunity after appearing to make a big stop. A few plays later the Patriots have 1st and 10 and the New York 28-yard line and a score appears imminent. On a 3rd and 7 play veteran Michael Strahan comes up with perhaps the biggest sack of his career, cleanly beating the tackle on the outside for a six-yard loss. On 4th and 13 the Patriots opt to go for it, rather than kick a 48-yard field goal. New York gets the stop and stays within four. Coach Belichick has to come under some fire for this decision, but kicker Stephen Gostkowski was actually in the locker room working on an injury so kicking was not an option. Those three points certainly would have made a big difference.
The Eli Manning drive: Not much explanation is needed as this will be remembered as one of the great drives in Super Bowl history and the defining moment of Manning's career. The Patriots appeared like they might have escaped another close call but a great performance from the offense and QB Manning, highlighted by the spectacular catch from Tyree delivered the game winning score. On the touchdown play conference championship hero Plaxico Burress delivered the touchdown catch, badly burning New England's Ellis Hobbs.
All in all an incredible season for both teams and a fitting end to a great game. The Patriots deserve a lot of credit for being the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season but what a performance by the Giants to win as an underdog in four playoff games and deliver so many road wins this season.