Posted: Sunday February 5, 2012 11:33PM ; Updated: Monday February 6, 2012 1:34AM
Andrew Perloff
Andrew Perloff>INSIDE THE NFL

Super Bowl Grades: Giants-Patriots

Story Highlights

Eli Manning played mistake-free football and silenced his doubters once again

New York's RBs, WRs and Special Teams also earned A's for their contributions

The Pats' wide receivers, defensive line and linebackers hurt them in the defeat

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Grading out performances from the New York Giants' nailbiting 21-17 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI:

New York Giants

Quarterback: Once again, Eli Manning kept his composure to lead the Giants to the game-winning score, proving he's one of the best late-game quarterbacks in NFL history. Manning completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. He didn't have as much success down the field as he's used to, but he was content to move the chains when the Patriots gave him opportunities underneath. And he didn't give New England any good chances at interceptions. When Manning missed, he was way off and no damage was done. Forget the "elite" question -- the next debate about Eli will be about the Hall of Fame. Grade: A

Running Backs: The Giants had the league's worst rushing attack during the season, but everything changed when Ahmad Bradshaw got healthy. Bradshaw was a little jumpy in the first half, and made a bad mistake by rolling into the end zone late in the game. But his 72 yards rushing and Brandon Jacobs' 37 were much needed. Grade: B+

Receivers: The Patriots focused on stopping Victor Cruz, which freed up Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. Nicks had 10 catches for 109 yards and Manningham finished with five catches for 73 yards, including a highlight-worthy 38-yard catch during the Giants' decisive fourth-quarter drive. Cruz didn't have many opportunities, but did come up with the Giants' first touchdown in traffic. Tight end Bear Pascoe stepped up as a contributor after Travis Beckum tore his ACL early in the game. Grade: A

Offensive Line: The Giants' line gave Eli Manning a clean pocket when he needed it late in the game. They gave up three sacks, but those didn't have a huge impact on the game. Their run blocking was solid all night long. If Bradshaw had been a bit more patient, the Giants could have had more big plays on the ground. Grade: A-

Defensive Line: The Giants came up with just two sacks and had long stretches during which they couldn't get pressure on Brady and get the Patriots off the field on third down. But they did bother Brady enough in the first quarter to make sure New England didn't get off to a hot start. Jason Pierre-Paul's ability to block passes at the line disrupted Brady's timing early, and he had a freakish tackle on Danny Woodhead near the goal line right before halftime. Justin Tuck's perseverance led to the first points of the game, when he forced Brady to intentionally ground the ball in the end zone for a safety. And Pierre-Paul was chasing Brady when he threw a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Chase Blackburn. The Giants did keep attacking Brady, and they kept him off balance in the fourth quarter. Grade: B-

Linebackers: Blackburn had a surprisingly athletic interception when Brady hurled a long pass toward Rob Gronkowski. Blackburn also had the hardest hit of the game, on Pats running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis. The Giants' linebackers had trouble when they got matched up with Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez -- but so would any other LB corps. Grade: B

Defensive Backs: This unit seemed like a significant weakness for the Giants heading into the season after cornerback Terrell Thomas was hurt during the preseason. They have been solid all season and were careful not to let any Pats receivers behind them on Sunday. Then they really stepped up in the fourth quarter when the Giants needed to contain Brady. Grade: B+

Special Teams: Punter Steve Weatherford pinned the Pats within the 10-yard line three times and could have a fourth time if the Giants' gunners had played the ball better. The Patriots had to go a long way to score all night thanks to Weatherford. Kicker Lawrence Tynes hit field goal attempts of 33 and 38 yards. Grade: A+

Coaching: Tom Coughlin sets the tone for the Giants with his measured, deliberate approach to football. He didn't panic when the Patriots had a late lead and made sure his players kept their cool. The Giants were conservative on offense, but that can work if you have faith your quarterback can win it late. And there's no doubt Coughlin believes in his players. Grade: A

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New England Patriots

Quarterback: After a non-descript start, Brady found his rhythm and picked apart the Giants defense during the middle of the game. Brady set a Super Bowl record with 16 straight completions and helped the Patriots jump out to a 17-9 lead. But then he appeared to hurt his shoulder on a Tuck sack in the third quarter and wasn't as sharp late in the game. Give Brady credit for moving his feet in the pocket to avoid the Giants' pass rush. His fancy footwork kept the game alive on the final drive of the game on 4th-and-16 when he hit Deion Branch for a drive-saving completion. Brady finished 27 of 41 for 276 yards, two TDs and an unwise interception on a deep pass to Gronkowski. Grade: B+

Running Backs: Danny Woodhead was effective catching passes out of the backfield and BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a couple of nice runs and continued his amazing streak of not turning the ball over. But with the Pats' emphasis on passing, this unit wasn't going to be able to make that much of a difference. Grade: B-

Receivers: They were tough catches, but Wes Welker and Deion Branch failed to haul the ball in during the Pats' final two offensive series. Then tight end Aaron Hernandez killed the last drive with a bad drop. Overall, they did a nice job on short and intermediate routes. But without tight end Gronkowski at full strength, they didn't have a bona fide downfield threat. Brady's longest pass was 21 yards to Chad Ochocinco. The Gronkowski injury was the story of the week leading up to the Super Bowl and may have ultimately been the difference in the game. Grade: C-

Offensive Line: This unit proved it's one of the best in the league by containing the Giants' fearsome front four. They gave Brady plenty of time in most situations. On the first touchdown, they seemingly gave him all night before he found Woodhead in the end zone. Grade: A-

Defensive Line: Vince Wilfork had been unstoppable so far in the postseason, but he failed to make a serious impact on Sunday. Mark Anderson was lined up at defensive end when he had a big sack on the Giants' first drive. The Patriots did get pressure on Eli throughout the night, but not when it counted. Grade: B-

Linebackers: This unit didn't do a bad job, but they made a couple of mistakes that hurt New England badly. Jerod Mayo failed to turn toward the quarterback even though he was in the right place at the right time on the Giants' first touchdown. And Rob Ninkovich was guilty of a costly off-sides in the fourth quarter. Mayo and Brandon Spikes both forced fumbles, but both times the Giants pounced on the ball. Grade: B-

Defensive Backs: Leading up to the game, this unit seemed like the Patriots' biggest concern. But they wisely turned to Kyle Arrington to control Cruz in the slot instead of Julian Edelman. And they made sure they didn't let up the big play after the catch. But the Pats needed a turnover at some point, and this group just isn't good enough to come up with game-changing plays. Grade: B

Special Teams: Zoltan Mesko punted three times and was adequate, pinning the Giants at their 12-yard line before the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Stephen Gostkowski hit his only field-goal attempt, a 29-yarder. The new kickoff rules didn't help the Pats, who had little chance for a big return. Grade: B

Coaching: Bill Belichick didn't have as much talent on this team as he did in 2007 and probably did a better job this season and in the Super Bowl than he did four years ago. Belichick did a great job covering up the holes on the defensive side of the ball, mixing up his look throughout the game. Belichick started this trend of running an offense through a tight end, and Gronkowski's injury clearly had a major impact on their game plan. They did as much as they could to move the ball, but in the end, couldn't get quite enough big plays. Grade: A-

 
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