Let 's start by defining our terms. "Two-minute drill" is a misnomer. Some of the most famous game-winning drives have started with three- and even five-plus minutes on the clock. In last year's Super Bowl the Giants' offense took the field for the final time with 3:42 left to play, trailing New England 17--14.
Eli Manning was supposed to go to the right side of the field on the first play, to Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz. But he didn't like what he saw: Cruz was basically wearing two Patriots defenders; Nicks, in the process of beating his man, had yet to flash open. And so from his own 12-yard line, Manning looked left and launched a throw that made Ernie Accorsi look like a very smart man.
It was Accorsi, then New York's general manager, who'd gone out on a limb for Manning in 2004, acquiring him from the Chargers in exchange for a king's ransom of draft picks. In Archie's son and Peyton's kid brother, Accorsi had seen grit and a preternatural calm even in—especially in—the most charged moments.
During a real two-minute drill, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride calls the plays. In practices, Eli runs the show. That forces him to "anticipate, make situational calls and deepens his grasp of what we're trying to do," says Gilbride. It also tells Gilbride what plays his quarterback is most comfortable with "at the moment of greatest stress."
That first-and-10 against the Patriots qualified as such a moment. Manning lofted a perfectly placed 38-yard pass to Mario Manningham, who made a balletic catch over his left shoulder, barely keeping his feet in bounds. Eight snaps later, Ahmad Bradshaw's six-yard touchdown run put the Giants in the lead.
While not all two-minute drills end in triumph—Tom Brady's ensuing Hail Mary into the end zone went unanswered—the Super Bowl is being decided more and more, it seems, by last-gasp drives: Four of the last five have come down to the final possession. If XLVII follows suit, which quarterback gets the edge? Joe Flacco, the Ravens' fifth-year starter, has engineered 10 fourth-quarter comebacks, while second-year man Colin Kaepernick's NFL résumé features no such highlight. "Flacco's guys know he can do it," says ex-49ers center Randy Cross, who was involved in the winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII. "They're going to have a confidence the 49ers can't have, because they haven't done it."
That said, Kaepernick has the makings of a future maestro of the 2MD. As a Nevada senior in 2010, his seven-yard scoring pass with 13 seconds to play tied No. 3 Boise State, whom Kap & Co. proceeded to knock off in overtime. Kaepernick is an accurate passer and possibly the best running quarterback in the NFL. And he's fearless—his father, Rick, says ever since Colin was 10, regardless of the sport, he has wanted the ball in his hands near the end of the game. Rick says his son "believes what it said on the poster in his bedroom: 'If it is to be, it's up to me.'"
"It looks like they already believe in him," says Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, who admires Kap's speed and envies the 49ers quarterback his green light to showcase it. Tongue-clucking Cowboys coach Tom Landry never approved of Staubach's scrambles. "We're watching film in my 11th year," he recalls. "I take off running, and Landry says, 'You're gonna learn someday.' I said, 'Coach, I'm retiring here pretty soon.'"
The authoritative site Pro Football Reference credits Staubach with 15 fourth-quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives. The most memorable came in a divisional playoff game at Minnesota in 1975—a 50-yard desperation heave to Drew Pearson to beat the Vikings, 17--14. Recounting the throw for reporters, Staubach said, "I just closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary."
"It's funny," Staubach muses. "I could just as easily have said Our Father or Glory Be." But while he may have coined a figure of speech, Roger the Dodger did not invent the two-minute drill. Johnny Unitas gets credit for that.