And then a strange thing happened. Brady dropped back to throw and saw something he hadn't seen all game: a busted coverage. Welker was running free. All Brady had to do was get the ball to him and the Patriots would be in easy field goal range with a chance to run the clock down and win the game.
But Brady's throw wasn't quite right—it almost seemed as if he aimed it. Welker turned back toward it, jumped, got both hands on it; only the ball bounced away and fell incomplete. "We just couldn't connect," Brady would say later. The misconnection led to a punt and, finally, the Reluctant Touchdown.
First though, on the opening play of the Giants' last possession, which began at their 12-yard line with 3:46 left, Mario Manningham made one of the great catches in Super Bowl history, 38 yards down the left sideline with two defenders hounding him and at an angle at which it seemed opposed to laws of nature to get both feet inbounds. But he did.
At that point Patriots coach Bill Belichick had all three of his timeouts, but he challenged the Manningham call, lost the challenge and lost the timeout.
The Giants had the ball at midfield. Manning completed another pass to Manningham, for 16 yards. Two plays later it was a pass to Hakeem Nicks for 14 more. Manning seems so self-assured on the field now at age 31. He is in control. Two plays later the Giants had a first down at the seven, and after the Patriots stopped Bradshaw for little gain, the clock showed 1:04. The Patriots used their second timeout. The Giants had the ball at the six-yard line.
Now we were at the climax. Belichick knew that his team would have almost no shot at winning if he let things play out. The Giants would run the clock down almost all the way, kick the field goal and win. So Belichick told his team to let the Giants score on the next play.
Of course, the Giants knew the situation too. They knew that if they scored the touchdown, they would have to give the ball back to Brady with about a minute left. Manning had an inkling that New England might try to let the Giants go into the end zone, and he wanted to remind his teammates not to score.
Manning handed off the ball to Bradshaw. He ran hard up the middle, and it was at about the two-yard line when he realized that nobody was trying to tackle him. Manning yelled at him to go down, and Bradshaw tried to slam on the brakes, like Wile E. Coyote when he realizes he's about to go over the cliff. You could almost hear the sound effects. Bradshaw managed to get his feet planted just before the goal line, and he put his hand down as if he were going to take a knee. But his body was still going forward, and he turned and fell slowly backward, onto his behind, into the end zone. A "Tush Down," comedian Billy Crystal would call it.
"I thought I heard Eli yelling at me to fall down," Bradshaw would say after the game, not unhappily. "I tried." People can argue about the right and wrong thing to do there. If Bradshaw had stopped and not scored the touchdown, and the field goal attempt had somehow missed, that would have been the worst decision in the history of the NFL. Of course, if Brady had led New England downfield for the win, people would be second-guessing Bradshaw now.
Brady didn't drive the Patriots for the win. The Giants' defense stopped him. And instantly people were talking history. They were talking about how coach Tom Coughlin finds himself in rare company, with men like Don Shula and Tom Landry and Bill Parcells, as the winner of two Super Bowls. They were talking about how Eli Manning has one more Super Bowl ring than his famous brother Peyton.