Associated PressGLENDALE, Ariz. – The Giants had the perfect answer for the suddenly imperfect Patriots: a big, bad defense and an improbable comeback led by their own Mr. Cool quarterback, Eli Manning.
In one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, New York shattered New England’s unbeaten season 17-14 Sunday night as Manning hit Plaxico Burress on a 13-yard fade with 35 seconds left. It was the Giants’ 11th straight victory on the road and the first time the Patriots tasted defeat in more than a year.
It was the most bitter of losses, too, because New England (18-1) was one play from winning and getting the ultimate revenge for being penalized for illegally taping opponents’ defensive signals in the season-opener against the New York Jets.
But its defense couldn’t stop a final, frantic 12-play, 83-yard drive that featured a spectacular leaping catch by David Tyree, who had scored New York’s first touchdown on the opening drive of the fourth quarter.
“It’s the greatest feeling in professional sports,” Burress said before bursting into tears.
The Patriots were done in not so much by the pressure of the first unbeaten season in 35 years as by the pressure of a smothering Giants pass rush. Tom Brady, the league’s Most Valuable Player and winner of his first three Super Bowls, was sacked five times, hurried a dozen more and at one point wound up on his knees, his hands on his hips following one of many poor throws.
Hardly a familiar position for the record-setting quarterback. And a totally strange outcome for a team that seemed destined for historic glory.
Oddly, it was a loss to the Patriots that sparked New York’s stunning run to its third Super Bowl and sixth NFL title. New England won 38-35 in Week 17 as the Patriots became the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to go spotless through the regular season. But by playing hard in a meaningless game for them, the Giants (14-6) gained something of a swagger and Manning cast off older brother Peyton’s shadow and found his footing.
Their growing confidence carried them through playoff victories at Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay, and then past the mightiest opponent of all.
Not that the Patriots were very mighty this day. They even conceded with 1 second on the clock as coach Bill Belichick ran across the field to shake the hand of jubilant Giants coach Tom Coughlin, then headed to the locker room, ignoring the final kneeldown.
That it was Manning taking that knee was stunning. Peyton’s kid brother not only matched his sibling’s achievement of last year with the Indianapolis Colts, but he showed the brilliant precision late in the game usually associated with, well, Brady.
Peyton Manning was seen in a luxury box jumping up and pumping both fists when Burress, who didn’t practice all week because of injuries, caught the winning score.
The upset also could be viewed as a source of revenge not only for the Giants, but for the other NFL teams over Spygate back in September. That cheating scandal made headlines again late in Super Bowl week, and could have placed an infinite cloud over New England’s perfection.
The Giants became the first NFC wild card team to win a Super Bowl; four AFC teams have done it. They also are the second team in three years to play nothing but away games and come away with the big prize; Pittsburgh did so the 2005 season.