The heave wasn’t quite as desperate this time as it was four years ago, but the similarities were there.
Four years ago, Eli Manning was in the grasp of Patriots pass rushers as he scrambled, ducked, and dodged before finally heaving an ill-advised prayer to David Tyree. Then came the famous catch that rested on a helmet, followed by a championship-clinching touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.
Mario Manningham didn’t need the aid of his head tonight. Instead he trusted his feet and hands, while Manning threw another remarkable pass through an incredibly tight window. The pass sailed 38 yards into Manningham’s hands, and it allowed the Giants to escape from the shadows of their own goalpost with less than four minutes remaining. It was the first completion of the game on a ball that traveled more than 20 yards through the air, and it was another magnificent, clutch throw from an elite quarterback.
Yes, Eli Manning is elite, and Manningham is Tyree circa 2012. A few hours ago we were discussing the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick tandem, and their ascent to becoming one of the best QB/head coach duos of all time if they won their fourth Super Bowl. Now after the Giants beat New England in spectacular fashion for the second time on the league’s biggest stage, that conversation needs to shift to another tandem.
Manning and Tom Coughlin are now just one Super Bowl victory behind Belichick and Brady. That’s not too bad for a coach who was on the hot seat in mid-November, a notion that’s now laughable.
There was nothing elite or remarkable about the Giants’ regular season. This is a team that had a promising 6-2 start, then over the next eight games then won only three times to finish 9-7, barely winning the NFC East after a Week 17 showdown with Dallas.
It was a two-faced existence. The Giants couldn’t handle a regular-season gauntlet between Weeks 10 and 14 that included losses to the Packers, Saints, Eagles, and 49ers (three playoff teams), which convinced us that they didn’t belong in the league’s top tier where the premier teams reside. At the time we thought they may still make the playoffs merely due to an uncharacteristically weak year for the NFC East, but they would be little more than post-season posers. Then when a 9-7 team was forced to play on Wild Card Weekend the other Giants emerged, outscoring the opposition 81-39 in the post-season prior to tonight.
Against the Patriots there was no dominance, just well-timed plays and execution. Manningham redeemed himself with his catch that essentially sealed the win after he left Manning little room on the sidelines earlier in the quarter, leading to a catch that went out of bounds, and a vital missed opportunity for key points.
At the time that misstep seemed crippling. In the end it was a misstep by a Patriot receiver and Wes Welker’s drop on a difficult but very make-able catch that will viewed as the game’s crucial mistake. A play that took place in the first quarter looms large too, as the intentional grounding call in the end zone that gave the Giants two points would have been the difference between New England needing a touchdown, or instead just pushing for a field goal on their final drive.
Inches, and two rare miscommunications played a massive role for the Patriots. Those same inches went the other way for New York thanks to Manning’s pinpoint accuracy, and Manningham’s nimble hands.
There was little finesse or brilliance for much of this game, but when they had to, a championship team orchestrated a championship play. That’s why Manning was the MVP, and Coughlin became one of only three active coaches with multiple Super Bowl rings.