From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, February 11, 2008
IT WAS TO HAVE BEEN A HISTORIC NIGHT. THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS WOULD win Super Bowl XLII, their 19th consecutive game, and become only the second NFL team, along with the 1972 Miami Dolphins, to complete a season unbeaten and untied. Instead the Giants completed an unexpected and emotional postseason run with a 17--14 victory. It was history cut from another cloth, a performance built on the sturdy under-pinnings of a ferocious defensive effort, sustained when quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver David Tyree combined on one of the most memorable plays in NFL history and sealed when Manning threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds to play. It was the culmination of a season in which a team showed deep resilience and rose to the top of its sport.
During the week leading up to the Super Bowl, the Giants were loose, the Patriots smooth yet practiced. The heavily favored Pats had spent the entirety of their 16--0 regular season, including a riveting 38--35 win over New York on Dec. 29, and their run through the AFC playoffs denying their pursuit of history, but that larger task defined the game.
The Giants, who were 10--6 in the regular season and the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs, slowly grew sick of their role. "Everywhere you went, it was all about the Patriots and 19--0," said cornerback R.W. McQuarters.
In the December home loss to New England, New York gave up 22 points in the final 19 minutes, but the Giants' defensive front—ends Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and the unit's veteran leader, Michael Strahan, and tackles Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins—had pressured Tom Brady all night, despite sacking him only once. "We did some things really well against them the first time," said Tuck. "We just didn't get him on the ground."
On Super Sunday the Giants brought relentless heat to the highest scoring offense in NFL history, sacking Brady five times and knocking him down a half dozen other times. The Giants manhandled the Patriots' offensive line, which includes three Pro Bowl players, and limited tailback Laurence Maroney, who had 244 rushing yards over two playoff games, to 36 yards on the ground.
The upshot of all this defense—New England's unit also played solidly—was a brutal game in which, after the Patriots took a 7--3 lead on the first play of the second quarter, the teams went 33 minutes, 52 seconds without scoring, a Super Bowl record. Then they compressed a night's drama into the fourth quarter.
First, Manning threw a touchdown to Tyree with 11:05 to play. Three series later Brady completed 8 of 11 on an 80-yard drive, capping it with a six-yard TD pass to Randy Moss that put New England back on top 14--10 with 2:42 remaining. The game then rested in Manning's hands. The Giants used six plays to move from their 17-yard line to their 44, where, on third-and-five, Manning took a shotgun snap and carved a place in football lore. Quickly swarmed in a collapsing pocket, he was grabbed by the Patriots' Jarvis Green, a 6' 3", 285-pound defensive end. For an instant Manning disappeared, presumed sacked. Somehow he pulled away from the scrum, squared himself and lobbed a pass into the middle of the field toward Tyree, who rose high, outfought strong safety Rodney Harrison and wound up clutching the ball against his helmet as he fell to the ground. "Once that ball was in the air, it was mine, mine, mine, like a little kid," said Tyree. The 32-yard gain moved the ball to the New England 24-yard line. Four plays later Burress beat Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs on a fade to the end zone.
"End of story," said Manning.
A year ago Manning was at the center of a Giants collapse, during which the team dropped six of its final eight in the regular season and lost in the first round of the playoffs. "I've had a lot of downs in New York," he said after the game. "To come out here and win, not just for me but for our whole team, is really special. And for me personally, I'd have to say it is kind of sweet."