"We all got beat."
Manning's first read was to the right, where free safety James Sanders lined up over Smith and cornerback Asante Samuel over Tyree. If Sanders sat hard on Smith, Tyree needed only to get inside of Samuel and he'd be open to the post deep. "The safety sat pretty hard," says Manning. "I probably would have thrown it to David anyway."
In fact, Sanders and Samuel appeared to bungle the coverage. "Tyree and Smith were both open," says NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell, who has watched the video many times.
Manning, however, had other concerns. At the snap Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas beat Giants left tackle David Diehl with a speed rush to the outside, forcing Manning to step up early; nosetackle Jarvis Green beat center Shaun O'Hara to O'Hara's left; and right defensive end Richard Seymour looped to his left behind Green. O'Hara tried to come off Green and cut off Seymour, and left guard Rich Seubert tried to pick up Green. Both failed.
"They ran a three-technique inside, and we all got beat," says Seubert. "The nosetackle [Green] pretty much picked me off. They did a good job. I think everybody on their defense came free to Eli. [Not entirely true: Right tackle Kareem McKenzie controlled linebacker Mike Vrabel's outside rush.] At that point in the play, when I didn't get my job done, I'm thinking, Just throw it, Eli." Manning had stepped up into a Green-Seymour sandwich. A sack was imminent.
"What in the hell happened?"
Seymour was the first to get to Manning, briefly grabbing the quarterback's jersey. Green's grip was more substantial—a meaty forearm across the top of Manning's back and then a handful of jersey as Manning tried to escape. Manning saw a flash of white shirt in front of him. "I was about to flip it to him," the quarterback says, "but then I saw it was [right guard] Chris Snee, so I thought, Don't do that."
Says Green, who is still amazed, "It was a weird play, man. At first it was a perfect pocket push, with AD [Thomas] getting pressure on the outside and then a big push in the middle. It's like it was clockwork. I know everybody in the stands was thinking, Man, this is sick. I had my hand on his shoulder, then I had his jersey, and I think I could even feel it ripping a little bit. I thought Eli was going to go down for sure. Watching film on him all year long, somebody just touches him, he falls to the ground. But he got away."
History will remember Manning's great escape, but much credit on the play goes to Giants linemen O'Hara and Seubert, who were badly beaten initially but stayed with the play, heeding the order delivered on football fields every day: Play to the whistle. As Seymour grabbed Manning, O'Hara reached across under Seymour's chin and tried to drag him off Manning. Likewise, Seubert thrust a forearm under Green's left arm, making it more difficult for Green to get leverage on Manning.
"My thing is this: Keep on trying," says Seubert, who grew up playing in Marshfield, Wis. "Don't ever give up. That's the way I was taught to play football. If something goes wrong—and just about everything went wrong on that play—do what you can to make it right."