On the first Sunday without football, and before we look ahead to the 2012 NFL Combine and the NFL Draft, we wanted to look back one more time at Super Bowl XLVI… and not at Rob Gronkowski’s dancing or New York City’s parade, but at the players and what they accomplished on the field.
Super Bowl XLVI featured a lot of key matchups, including two elite quarterbacks that both had Super Bowl MVP’s to their credit. Tom Brady, at age 34, on the short list of quarterbacks that could be argued to be the best to ever play the position. Eli Manning, after an elite season in 2011, was still felt to be either the second or third best quarterback in his family (yes – we’re keeping Archie in the discussion).
During the regular season, Brady threw for 5,235 yards, with 39 TDs and 12 INTs for a passer rating of 105.6. Manning threw for 4,933 yards with 29 TDs and 16 INTs, for a passer rating of 92.9. Manning also threw for an NFL record 15 fourth quarter touchdowns, over half of his total for the season, as he was the epitome of the fourth quarter clutch quarterback throughout the season. And with most believing the game would likely come down to the closing minutes, it was hard to bet against Manning and the Giants.
Both teams had their weapons, particularly through the air. The Giants had a trio of receivers that could strike fear into most secondaries in the NFL. You might be able to take away one or even two, but to take away all three was next to impossible. Hakeem Nicks, in just his 3 rd year, had a great season catching 76 balls for 1,192 yards and 7 TDs, but by the end of the year he was overshadowed by second year receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz caught 82 balls for 1,586 yards, third in the NFL, and averaged 18.7 yards per catch – also third in the league. Mario Manningham had a mere 523 yards all season, but came up big when he had to, and would prove to be a big factor in the game.
The Patriots had the best possession receiver in the league with Wes Welker, and the best pair of tight ends with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski led the league in receiving TDs with 17, an NFL record for tight ends, and added 1327 yards. Welker was second in the league with 1569 yards led the league in receptions with 122, tied for the fourth most in NFL history. Hernandez added 910 yards to the mix.
The game started off strangely, when on the Patriots first possession, their first offensive play, Brady was called for intentional grounding out of his own endzone, giving the Giants a quick 2-0 lead. It was an unusual call, and the type of call that rarely gets made on a deep throw over the middle, but it gave the Giants an early lead and the ball.
Following the free kick, the Giants marched down the field for 78 yards in 9 plays and scored on a 2-yard pass from Manning to Cruz. We were 12 minutes into the game, and the Giants had a 9-0 lead, while the Patriots had run just one offensive play.
In the second quarter, the Patriots started rolling. The cut the lead to 9-3 on a field goal, capping a 10 play, 60 yard drive, and then late in the second quarter, they put together what looked like one of the Super Bowl-defining drives. In the final 4 minutes of the half, Brady led the Patriots 96 yards in 14 plays, scoring on a 4-yard TD pass to Danny Woodhead. The Patriots took the lead 9-10 into the locker room and would receive the kickoff in the second half.
The started the second half strong as well, driving down to score again on the first drive of the second half. During the second and third quarter, Brady completed 16 consecutive passes to break the Super Bowl record that had been held by Joe Montana. The Patriots drove 79-yards in 8 plays, to score on a 12-yard pass from Brady to Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots had a 17-9 lead and their offense looked to be unstoppable. As Brady walked off the field, he pounded the MHK patch on his chest and pointed at the sky, in honor of team owner Bob Kraft’s wife Myra who passed away last summer before the season started. It was a touching moment and the Patriots looked well on their way to their fourth Super Bowl victory in the last 10 years.
No one would have guessed that the Patriots would be shut out for the last 25 minutes of the game.
We would later learn that Brady had reinjured the shoulder he’d been nursing late in the season on a hit in the third quarter. At the time of the hit, he was 20 of 24, including 16 completions in a row. He would go just 7 of 17 for the remainder of the game.
The Giants battled back as they had done all season, and just kept fighting. They added two field goals in the third to cut the lead to 17-15. But when the Giants were forced to punt the ball to the Patriots with 9:24 left, the Patriots looked to be ready to put together the final drive to close out the game. The moved the ball down the field with a mixture of short passes and runs, working on eating the clock and driving down for what would have been the icing touchdown.
The drive stalled on the Giants 44-yard line. After a 1-yard loss on first down by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brady made what looked to be an automatic pass to Wes Welker that would have given them a first down in field goal range with about 4 minutes left, but the pass bounced off Welker’s hands. On third-and-11, a tipped pass was dropped by Deion Branch, and the Patriots were forced to punt the ball back to the Giants with 3:46 to go and only a 2-point lead, putting Manning in a situation he’d been in all season long – 88-yards away from a game winning TD, this time to ice the Super Bowl.
Manning opened the drive with a great pass to Manningham on the sidelines for 38-yards to get the Giants to midfield. Two plays later, he hit Manningham again for another 16 yards and a first down at the 34 yard line. A 14-yard pass to Nicks got the Giants well within field goal range, and when they got a first down at the 7-yard line with a little over a minute left – they looked to be in a solid position to walk away with the victory… and then things got really strange.
The Giants were in a position to run down most of the remaining time on the clock and kick a chip-shot field goal from inside the 10 to win the game, and leave the Patriots with no time left on the clock. The Patriots, on the next play, parted like the Red Sea before Moses to let Ahmad Bradshaw score. Bradshaw tried to stop running at the 1-yard line, but his moment carried him forward. While he was hanging at the 1 – it looked as if Patriots defenders were closing on him to push him into the end zone.
The touchdown gave the Giants the lead, but it did give the Patriots the ball back with 0:57 to go, and a chance to win the game. Brady was able to drive them to midfield with a shot at a Hail Mary pass to win the game, but the Hail Mary fell agonizingly short.
Manning had his second Super Bowl victory and his second MVP trophy, and the Patriots frustration continued, but it had all the drama that anyone could hope for in a Super Bowl. We only hope Super Bowl XLVII will be as exciting.