New York Giants 17 – New England Patriots 14
Overview: Emotionally, this hasn’t hit me yet. When it does, I think I may cry with joy. But everything still seems far too surreal. So let the analytical side of me try to comprehend what just happened.
After the 22-10 loss to the Redskins at home in mid-December, it appeared that the Giants would bumble their way into the playoffs before experiencing a quick exit for the third year in a row. The following week, down 14-0 in the first quarter to the Bills, in horrendous weather conditions, the Giants out-scored Buffalo the rest of the way 38-7. With the win, the Giants clinched a Wild Card spot but finished far behind the 13-3 Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.
Entering the season finale against the 15-0 Patriots, it seemed as if the Giants had nothing to play for except pride and momentum. In hindsight, the 38-35 loss to New England offered the Giants two more things: (1) confidence, particularly at quarterback, and (2) experience against the best team in football. But at the time, aside from fantasy day-dreaming, no sane Giants’ fan would have seriously predicted what was about to transpire over the course of the next four playoff games. Entering the post-season, the Giants hardly seemed like a serious challenger for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
I firmly believe that most Giants’ fans (and non-Giants’ fans) can’t truly comprehend and appreciate what this team just accomplished. It is undoubtedly one of the most amazing playoff runs in all of American sports history. Not only were the first three playoff games in hostile territory, but the Giants were heavy underdogs and actually trailed in all four playoff games. Most notably, the Giants knocked off the NFC’s two best football teams, before dealing a death blow to the best team in football. The Cowboys, Packers, and Patriots had a combined record of 45-6 before the Giants beat them. Dallas had swept the Giants and Green Bay had soundly defeated the Giants in the regular season. The Patriots had not only also beaten the Giants but sported the highest scoring offense in NFL history, the best quarterback in football, and the best head coach in football.
And the Giants had their own baggage. In their entire 82-year history, the Giants had only won three road playoff games. Entering the 2007 post-season, the Giants had won a total of three playoff games in 16 years. Take away the Giants’ surprise success in 2000 and this history even looks more pathetic. Counting the playoff losses in 2005 and 2006, entering the 2007 season, Head Coach Tom Coughlin was a .500 coach with the Giants. And he had not won a playoff game since 1999. Coughlin was almost fired at the end of the 2006 season. (It is the irony of all ironies that Tiki Barber’s 234-yard performance against the Redskins in Week 17 likely saved his job). QB Eli Manning was a frighteningly inconsistent quarterback who had turned the ball over 27 times (20 interceptions, 7 lost fumbles) in 16 regular season games. He was also 0-2 in the playoffs. He was widely regarded by most as a huge draft-day mistake.
The three playoff games against the Cowboys, Packers, and Patriots were three of the most exciting (and heavily watched) playoff games in NFL history. Think how each ended. Any one game alone would have been the highlight of a season, but all three combined (back-to-back-to-back) was like some sort of extended orgasm. R.W. McQuarters intercepts Tony Romo in the end zone on what many feared to be a last-second, game-winning drive. Corey Webster intercepts Brett Favre in overtime and Lawrence Tynes kicks a 47-yard miracle in the wind and record cold at Lambeau. Eli Manning marches his team 83 yards in just over two minutes against Bill Belichick’s defense, culminating with the game-winning touchdown pass with 35 seconds left in the Super Bowl to ruin the Patriots’ undefeated season.
Are you kidding me?
Where did energy come from? Where did the confidence come from? How did the Giants manage to get stronger and more physical as the playoffs progressed when they should have been getting weaker? How did Manning change from a turnover machine into the quarterback who made the fewest mistakes in the post-season (against four of the very best defenses in all of football no less)? How did the Giants’ defense transform itself into an elite status? How did so many rookies and young players play with so much poise?
The 1986 playoff run was special because it was the first. There was something cathartic about the post-season destruction of the 49ers, Redskins, and Broncos. 1990 was special too because after Phil Simms was lost, the season looked over. And you’d be hard pressed to find two finer back-to-back playoff games than the Giants’ 15-13 win over an incredible 49ers team (ending the three-peat hopes) and the 20-19 win over the Bills (stopping the unstoppable K-Gun offense). But 2007 will go down in the history of Giants and New York sports lore as something miraculous. 4-0 in the playoffs. Three consecutive playoff games ending in dramatic fashion. One NFL Championship ending the perfect season. Vindication for Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning.
Hollywood could not have written a better script.
And it still hasn’t sunk in yet.
Super Bowl Overview: It was a strange game. Both teams scored on their opening possessions and then neither scored again until the 4th quarter. It was low-scoring, but it was exciting throughout. And I’ve heard many non-Giants’ fans remark that it was the most exciting Super Bowl they’ve watched.
In a game that could have been dramatically altered by a play here or there, two overall impressions will linger for most: (1) the relentless nature of the Giants’ defense, and (2) the Giants’ final game-winning drive.
Regarding the first point, let’s fully appreciate what was accomplished. No team in NFL history has ever scored more points in a single season than the 2007 New England Patriots. They averaged almost 37 points a game during the regular season. Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes in 16 games. The Giants held New England 45 yards rushing, 229 net yards passing, one touchdown pass, and 14 total points. No one in their right mind would have thought the Giants would have held the Patriots to 14 points.
Stating the obvious, the pass rush, led by Justin Tuck (can the freaking media please stop calling him Jason), set the tone. The Patriots have a very good offensive line and the Giants’ defensive line abused them. The Patriots deep passing game was not effective as Brady simply did not have the time to set up in the pocket to take shots further down the field. Not counting the Patriots’ last possession, Brady tried to hit Randy Moss deep five times in the game, but every one of these passes fell incomplete. Let’s also give some credit to the back seven on defense too. While aided immeasurably by the defensive line, these guys were often called upon to cover exceptionally dangerous receivers one-one-one – and they did their job. As I expected and wrote about in my game preview, Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo called it aggressively like he usually does. The Giants blitzed quite a bit, both regular blitzes and zone blitzes. And the corners often played aggressive man coverage. The Giants didn’t play scared. That paid off big time.
We must give credit to the Giants’ offense keeping the Patriots’ offense off of the field for much of the first half. The Giants’ held the ball for one-third of the first half on their opening drive. It was the most time-consuming drive in Super Bowl history and it was a big factor as to why the score was only 7-3 at the break.
In the second half, the time of possession battle turned in the Patriots’ favor. But the Patriots’ opening drive that consumed over eight minutes of play clock produced no points. That was huge. The defense continued to keep Tom Brady and the New England passing game out of rhythm. The major defensive letdown of course was the late drive by the Patriots that allowed New England to regain the lead 14-10. While Spagnuolo contends that he did not change things up on defense and that his defenders were fatiguing (the latter obviously is true), it looked to me that the blitz packages were dialed down on this possession and the coverage was softer. Too many receivers were running uncontested against what looked to be conservative zone coverage. It almost cost New York dearly.
Now to the second point: the last Giants’ drive of the game. Eli Manning accomplished what only one other quarterback had ever accomplished in a Super Bowl. Only Joe Montana and the 1988 San Francisco 49ers had won a Super Bowl after trailing with under a minute to go in the fourth quarter. 83 yards. 12 plays. In two minutes and seven seconds. Game-winning touchdown pass with 35 seconds to play. That’s the stuff of legend. Anyone who says Eli just managed the game in the playoffs can shut the hell up. He didn’t “manage the game” in any of the four playoff games. He was a decisive factor in all four wins.
One final note. In a post-season and a Super Bowl filled with superlatives, the 32-yard Manning-to-Tyree play obviously stands out as the signature play. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that it is perhaps the greatest play in NFL history. The only play I can think that challenges it is the “Immaculate Reception” by Franco Harris, but that play was more luck than skill. First of all, what makes the Manning-to-Tyree play so special is the context. It occurred in the Super Bowl. On the desperate, game-winning drive. By the huge underdog. Against the perfect team. On top of that, the play was remarkable on both ends. Had the catch been ordinary, the play would have still stood out due to Manning’s escape from what looked to be a sure sack. Had Manning benefitted from a perfect pocket, the catch itself would have been an all-time great. Taken together? Again, you’ve got to be kidding!
Quarterback: The MVP of Super Bowl XLII. Holy shit. Manning finished the game 19-of-34 for 255 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
The Giants are a young team and Eli is a young quarterback. Receiving the ball first in the biggest game of your life isn’t always the best thing if you are young. On the Giants’ first offensive possession of the game, the Giants faced a 3rd-and-5, 3rd-and-6, 3rd-and-7, and 3rd-and-11. Manning converted on the first three despite the Patriots blitzing him. These three plays were critical as they not only led to points, but they helped to settle down the entire team and keep the Patriots’ offense off of the field. Manning was remarkably cool and composed, easily pointing out where the blitz would be coming from before the ball was snapped in order to aid his protection. For example, on the 3rd-and-5 play, Manning spotted the blitz by the safety from his right before the snap. Later on the drive, Manning really made a nice play when he slid to his right away from pressure and hit Steve Smith for a first down on 3rd-and-7. His only mistake on this drive I felt was his poor decision to throw into double-coverage to Burress in the end zone.
On the Giants’ second drive, Manning showed nice patience and an accurate arm on his 38-yard deep toss to Amani Toomer. This drive ended with an interception at the Patriots’ 10-yard line, but the pick was caused by a dropped pass by the receiver, not Manning. (Manning was the victim of three drops in the first half). On the fourth drive, the Giants narrowly avoided turning the ball over when Manning was sacked and he fumbled. On the very next play, on 3rd-and-18, he made what I thought was the worst decision and throw of the game by throwing the ball up for grabs when he was pressured. The result was almost an interception.
On New York’s first possession of the second half – their only possession of the entire third quarter – Manning smartly kept the drive moving by finding Toomer twice for first downs. However, he did get greedy by forcing a ball to Burress again in the end zone, while Toomer was running free on an intermediate route over the middle. Manning then delivered a well-thrown ball to Burrress on 3rd-and-6, but Burress couldn’t come down with the catch.
On the Giants’ second drive of the second half, Manning was flawless. The 45-yard catch-and-run by Kevin Boss was a perfect throw as was his 5-yard touchdown toss to David Tyree. In between these two plays, Manning found Steve Smith for 17 yards on 3rd-and-4. On the third possession, Manning did a nice job of spinning away from pressure, rolling to his left and spotting Burress for what could have been a game-breaking play. But Burress and Manning were not on the same page as Burress decelerated for a half second, causing the ball to fall incomplete.
Then came the final drive and “the play” which I have already also addressed above. Manning completed five passes for 77 yards on this drive, including three third-down completions (one of which came up a yard short). Though much shorter, the final game-winning throw was very reminiscent of his touchdown throw in overtime against the Eagles in 2006. It was an all-out blitz by the Patriots. Mannng read it and perfectly lofted the ball up for Burress to make a play against single coverage.
Wide Receivers: “If anyone could ever know how close he came to not playing,” Wide Receivers Coach Mike Sullivan said. “He shouldn’t have been out there.” Sullivan was talking of Burress, who had a really rough season in the injury department. How the heck do you fall in the shower and sprain your MCL before the Super Bowl? Burress only had two catches. The first was critical as it was the game’s first third-down conversion and kept alive a 10-minute drive. But the second will be relived forever in highlight films as the game-winning touchdown catch with 35 seconds left in Super Bowl XLII. Burress did drop two passes.
The Giants’ leading receiver was Amani Toomer with six catches for 84 yards. He may have broken his hand in the 4th quarter but he kept playing. The highlight of the game for Toomer was his remarkable 38-yard sideline catch (where he did get away with a shove off). Does any receiver make more fantastic sideline catches than Amani? Toomer caught two passes on the game-winning touchdown drive.
Steve Smith had five catches for 50 yards and was a big factor in the win. The lowlight was obviously his dropped pass at the 10-yard line that was intercepted, costing certain points. Smith was at the other end of an 8-yard pass on 3rd-and-6 on the game’s first drive. He also made a big play by recovering Eli Manning’s fumble in the second quarter, preventing the Patriots from recovering and possibly advancing the football. In the second half, Smith came down with a critical 17-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 on the Giants’ first touchdown drive, despite taking a big hit. Perhaps the most underappreciated play of the game was the Manning-to-Smith connection on 3rd-and-11 on the play preceding the game-winning touchdown. Smith’s run after the catch not only picked up the first down, but it also stopped the clock. The Giants were out of timeouts at that point in the game.
David Tyree caught four passes in the 2007 regular season. Amani Toomer said he was dropping every pass at practice on Friday before the game. Tyree caught three passes in the Super Bowl. The second catch was for the Giants’ first touchdown, from five yards out. The third was the greatest play in Super Bowl history – the biggest play on the game-winning, Championship drive. Unbelievable. On the down side, it looked like Tyree ran the wrong route on the play preceding his remarkable catch – almost resulting in an interception and a Patriots’ victory. Tyree also dropped a pass on this drive.
Running Backs: It was tough sledding against the Patriots’ tough run defense that is anchored by three of the better defensive linemen and four of the best run-defending linebackers in the game. But the Giants kept plugging and played with a physical and aggressive style up front that the Patriots were not used to seeing. As usual, Brandon Jacobs (42 yards on 14 carries) was the hammer and Ahmad Bradshaw (45 yards on 9 carries) provided some explosion. Both ran with determination. Jacobs should have been tackled in the backfield on the game’s first offensive play but fought his way to a 3-yard gain. Later on this drive, just like he did against the Packers, he informed the other team that it was going to be a long day as he knocked the safety backwards on an attempted tackle on a 7-yard run. And after a couple of shaky first-half possessions, the Giants settled things down on offense again with a heavy dose of the running game as Jacobs gained 13 yards in three carries and Bradshaw doubled that in another. It was pure smash-mouth, reminiscent of Super Bowl XXV. What really stood out to me about Jacobs, however, was his blitz protection. There was one blitz where the safety got around him on a spin move, but other than that, Jacobs was rock solid and a big factor in giving Eli Manning time to complete passes. Jacobs’ biggest play was obviously his 4th-and-1 conversion on the game-winning drive. LG Rich Seubert had been pushed back on this play and Jacobs had to push Seubert out of way simply to get past the first down marker.
Bradshaw also set the tone with his inspiring 8-yard gain on 3rd-and-1 on the first drive as he carried DE Ty Warren for a ride. What lower leg strength! Later in the first half, Bradshaw was both the goat and hero on the same play. First he botched the hand-off from Manning, fumbling the ball. But Bradshaw redeemed himself by somehow miraculously recovering the fumble from underneath a Patriots’ defender. Had Bradshaw not wrestled the ball away, the Patriots would have had the football at the Giants’ 30-yard line. Later in the second quarter, I don’t know if Bradshaw intended to keep the ball in play when he batted it after Eli’s fumble, but he shouldn’t have. Next time, knock it out of bounds Ahmad! Bradshaw also looked real good upending LB Junior Seau on one inside blitz. On the Giants’ first touchdown drive, Bradshaw gained 13 yards on three runs.
Tight Ends/Fullback: The Giants alternated quite a bit between their two-tight end set up with Kevin Boss and Michael Matthews and their one-tight end formation with Boss and FB Madison Hedgecock. For the most part, these three blocked pretty well though Matthews couldn’t fully control his man on the game’s first play.
In the passing game, Boss dropped one pass. But he also ignited the slumbering Giants’ offense with his 45-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter. This was the play that sparked the Giants’ first touchdown drive.
Offensive Line: Not perfect, but about as good as you could expect against a top-notch opponent in an NFL Championship Game coached by one of the brightest defensive minds in NFL history. As mentioned above, it was tough sledding for the ground game but they kept at it and were physical. By not giving up on the run, the Giants kept their offense balanced and helped to keep the ball away from the Patriots’ offense. Sometimes 3- and 4-yard gains are a thing of beauty.
Manning was sacked three times, but two of these were more coverage sacks. The one costly sack was the one given up by LT David Diehl as LB Adalius Thomas sped past him to strip Manning of the football, driving the Giants out of field goal range. Ironically, despite the late-game heroics, pass protection was the shakiest on the last drive. Rich Seubert gave up a couple of pressures on this possession. Shaun O’Hara gave up one and so did Diehl.
Defensive Line: This group obviously deserves special mention. Tom Brady was punished all night. From the Patriots’ first possession until their last, he was hit and pummeled. There were five sacks, but countless other hits and hurries. The star up front was Justin Tuck, who probably received seriously consideration for game MVP. Tuck had 6 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. There were two extremely important three-and-outs in the second quarter caused by the Giants’ defense. On the second of these, Tuck made two big plays. On 1st-and-10, from LDE, his penetration led to no gain by HB Laurence Maroney. Two plays later, from RDT, Tuck somehow managed to keep his balance and keep fighting to the quarterback en route to sacking Brady for a 7-yard loss on 3rd-and-17. On the Patriots’ last drive of the first half, Tuck’s hit on Brady led to an errant deep throw intended for Randy Moss. Then he ended the drive with a sack and strip of Brady as the Giants’ recovered the loose football. Tuck was not quite as effective in the second half, but he did help to cause an errant deep pass to Moss again on 2nd-and-15 late in the third quarter. He had one more pressure on the Patriots’ final touchdown drive.
Tuck cooled off some in the second half, but Osi Umenyiora (4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) stepped it up. While he had no sacks, Umenyiora was a major factor on the pass rush. On the Patriots’ first possession of the second half, he had two pressures and tackled Maroney for a 2-yard loss. Umenyiora got close to Brady again on the Patriots’ quick four-and-out in the 4th quarter. Earlier in the game, Umenyiora’s penetration on 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter led to a 2-yard loss and a punt. Umenyiora recovered the fumble that Tuck forced at the end of the first half.
Strahan hit Brady on the play where LB Antonio Pierce was flagged for pass interference in the end zone. Late in the second quarter, Strahan’s penetration into the backfield led to a 3-yard loss on a running play. On the Patriots’ first drive of the second half, Strahan tipped away a swing pass intended for HB Kevin Faulk. Later he got one good pressure and then came up with a huge play in the game as he sacked Brady for a 6-yard loss on 3rd-and-7. This sack probably prevented a field goal attempt as the Patriots unsuccessfully tried to convert on 4th-and-13 from the Giants’ 31-yard line on the very next play.
At defensive tackle, Barry Cofield (1 tackle) played well. He hammered Brady (along with Umenyiora) on his first pass of the game. Cofield also tackled the halfback for a 2-yard loss on 3rd-and-1. Fred Robbins was steady with three tackles. He did combine with Antonio Pierce to limit one screen pass to four yards.
I have commented that Jay Alford was seeing more playing time and having a greater impact in games and that certainly continued in the Super Bowl. Alford saw quite a few snaps. I was impressed by his hustle in the second quarter on a swing pass to the halfback where Alford chased down the back. Of course, Alford’s biggest play was his crushing hit on Tom Brady on 2nd-and-10 at the very end of the game. It was a quick inside move by Alford against the guard and the 10-yard loss really helped to dash any remaining hopes the Patriots might have had in tying the game and forcing overtime.
Linebackers: Antonio Pierce (10 tackles) and Kawika Mitchell (8 tackles, 1 sack) were very active. Both did a reasonable job in pass coverage. Facing 3rd-and-10 from the Giants’ 17-yard line, Pierce did get flagged with a costly pass interference penalty on the tight end in the endzone, leading to a touchdown. Pierce should have turned around for the football on the play. Pierce did a nice job of stopping Faulk short of the first down on a 3rd-and-5 pass. However, Faulk badly beat Pierce for a 12-yard reception on the Patriots’ final touchdown drive.
Mitchell sacked Brady for a 7-yard loss on a key three-and-out in the second quarter. It was a well-timed blitz as Mitchell feigned dropping back into coverage before coming. Mitchell also got a big hit on Brady late in the third quarter on another blitz when the Pats were coming off of the goal line.
Reggie Torbor (2 tackles) had one play of note where he stuff Maroney for no gain.
Defensive Backs: Though aided greatly by the excellent pass rush, the defensive backs played well, as they have all post-season. Once again, Corey Webster (2 tackles, 1 pass defense) stood out as he was often called upon to cover Randy Moss (though often with safety support). Moss was held to five catches and 62 yards. Webster was shakiest on the Patriots’ final touchdown drive. On first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, Moss beat Webster on an out move for what should have been a TD but the pass was off the mark. Two plays later, Webster lost his balance against Moss and an easy touchdown was the result. Other than that, Webster played pretty darn well. Webster may have saved the game too with finger-tip deflection of Brady’s second-to-last desperate pass that came too damn close to being completed.
Aaron Ross (2 tackles) gave up a couple of receptions to Wes Welker, one a 19-yard gain in the third quarter and a 13-yard gain to Welker in the 4th quarter. He combined forcefully with Webster on one wide receiver screen to Wes Welker that lost two yards.
Kevin Dockery (3 tackles), who missed a lot of time with the hip injury, looked a little rusty. He was easily beaten by Wes Welker out of the slot on 3rd-and-3 for a first down on the Patriots’ first touchdown drive. Moss then beat him for his longest gain of the day – 18 yards – late in the second quarter.
Sam Madison (2 tackles, 1 pass defense) made a nice play by playing off a block and tackling Faulk on a swing pass. In the 4th quarter, Madison made another good tackle, this time on Welker, to hold the elusive receiver to a 3-yard gain on a WR-screen. Two plays later, Madison deflected away (and almost intercepted) a 3rd-and-7 pass intended for Welker, forcing a punt. On the Patriots’ last touchdown drive, Madison had good coverage on Donte Stallworth on a pass that fell incomplete.
FS Gibril Wilson (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) did a nice job in run defense on one outside run in the second quarter, holding the back to only a 1-yard gain. On the very next snap, SS James Butler (10 tackles) helped to stuff the running back for a 2-yard loss on 3rd-and-1. Late in the second quarter, Wilson hit Brady hard on a blitz, causing an errant throw on a deep pass attempt to Randy Moss. Wilson did get beat by Welker (who didn’t?) on a 16-yard gain on 2nd-and-15 in the 3rd quarter. Wilson was often called upon to provide deep support against Moss. He did allow Moss to get past him on the Patriots’ second-to-last play, but not the final play as he prevented any last-second miracle. I thought Butler played pretty well in coverage from what I could tell. Pierce did snap at him after Pierce’s penalty in the end zone, but Butler had good coverage in the red zone late in the game.
Mike Johnson (1 tackle) badly missed Faulk in the open field on a 3rd-and-13 play that picked up 14 yards. But he and Wilson did not bite on a couple of pump fakes by Brady later in this drive on the 4th-and-13 play into the endzone that fell incomplete.
Special Teams: The big negative was the 43-yard kickoff return after the Giants scored first. It looked like Zak DeOssie allowed the returner to get outside of contain. However, DeOssie redeemed himself with his sure tackle on kickoff coverage right after the game-winning touchdown strike to Burress. It was a huge special teams stop given the score and the time remaining.
I thought R.W. McQuarters did a fine job in the punt return department, not only gaining 16 yards on one return, but also making a smart decision on fielding another punt and saving field position. The Giants’ kick return game was disappointing.
Chase Blackburn had an eventful game. He made a real strong tackle on the Patriots’ opening kickoff return of the second half. But this drive was extended when Blackburn was unable to get off the field in time on a Patriots’ 4th-and-2 punt, leading to a 5-yard penalty and an automatic first down. Fortunately, the Patriots did not score on this drive.
The kicking game by Jeff Feagles (two punts downed inside the 20) and Lawerence Tynes (1-for-1 on field goal attempts) was solid.
Halftime Entertainment: Best halftime show ever at the Super Bowl (except for the young “look-at-me” window-dressing crowd choreographed around the stage). Tom Petty was an excellent choice as was his song selection. And I couldn’t help but take away a special meaning to the lyrics:
Well I won’t back down
No I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down
No I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin me down
gonna stand my ground
… and I won’t back down