As a wild-card team and just the No. 5 seed in the NFC, New York produced the formula that each of the Patriots’ previous opponents had been searching for; consistent pressure on quarterback Tom Brady, a ball-control offense to keep the game close heading to the fourth quarter, and a big play here and there come crunch time.
Ingredient No. 1 for that winning formula, and probably the biggest factor in the win was the pressure applied to Brady, who was harassed, knocked down, and generally molested by the Giants pass rush all evening. He was consistently forced to hurry his throws and rarely had time to look downfield, which is why receiver Wes Welker set a Super Bowl record for receptions with 11-for-103 yards while the dangerous Randy Moss was held relatively in check with five catches for 62 yards.
A lot of credit also goes to quarterback Eli Manning, who has faced heavy criticism throughout his young career, but played nearly mistake-free football through the playoffs and championship game. His performance earned him game MVP honors, although it could be argued his defensive line deserved the honor more.
He was, however, involved in two of the biggest plays of the game, both of which contributed directly to the victory. The first was a play that we are sure to see replayed over and over in the coming years. With time running down and the Giants still on their side of the 50-yard line, Manning faced heavy pressure and appeared to be going down as several defenders tugged at his jersey. But somehow he escaped and rolled out to his left, heaving the ball 32 yards downfield where receiver David Tyree went up high and made a circus catch, struggling to pull the ball almost seemingly from behind his helmet as he fell to the ground. Several plays later, Manning tossed the game-winning touchdown pass, a 13-yard floater to a wide open Plaxico Burress, with just 35 seconds on the clock.
The Giants started the game on a high note, running nearly ten minutes off the clock during a 16-play drive that culminated in a 32-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes. The Patriots answered back with a 12-play drive of their own, that ended with Laurence Maroney punching the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line, giving New England a 7-3 lead. The two drives combined erased all the time off the clock in the first quarter, setting a Super Bowl record for the least number of drives in the first quarter of a Super Bowl.
From that point on, the rest of the first half turned into a defensive struggle as the Giants did an excellent job of harassing Brady, sacking him three times and knocking him down on six other occasions before the intermission.
The third quarter continued on a similar note as both teams battled to a defensive stalemate. The Giants, however, regained the lead early in the fourth quarter as they put together an efficient six-play, 80-yard drive keyed by a 45-yard catch and run by tight end Kevin Boss and capped by a five-yard TD pass from Manning to Tyree.
Midway through the final period, though, Brady and the Patriots offense suddenly seemed to find a rhythm, and they marched down the field for the go-ahead score while milking the clock down to just over two minutes. It appeared as though Brady and company had again worked their magic.
But this time around it was not to be as the Cinderella Giants took a page out of the Patriots’ book and simply found a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with some magic of their own.