By: Bob George/
February 05, 2012

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The game reached a point where you thought the Patriots would breeze to a win, and then it simply changed.

Winning the coin toss and deferring is the Patriot Way, and that act produced 14 points to negate a horrid start in Super Bowl XLVI. Leading 17-9 early in the third quarter, the Patriots surrendered two easy field goals to the Giants, the offense never got a whiff of the end zone for the rest of the game, and Eli Manning led the Giants on their predictable final drive to take the lead late. A desperation Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game failed, and the Giants defeated the Patriots, 21-17 to win their second NFL Championship in the last four years.

The loss will obviously be a bitter pill for the Patriots, but it underscored the problems the Patriots have without a shutdown defense. It was a good deal to hold the Giants to only 21 points, but in the end the defense did not produce the stops it needed. Tom Brady was on his way to his third Super Bowl MVP award, but the Giants defense stiffened in the third quarter, and that combined with several key drops by normally dependable receivers doomed the Patriots in the end.

The game began ominously for the Patriots. Following a defensive stop, the Patriots began their first drive at their own six-yard line. Brady dropped back into the end zone, and saw old nemesis Justin Tuck bearing down. Brady heaved the ball deep downfield just as Tuck clobbered him. Referee John Parry ruled that Brady threw the ball away to avoid a sack and was not outside the pocket, and called intentional grounding. Because the foul occurred in the end zone, it was a safety and a 2-0 Giant lead. It was the first safety in the Super Bowl since Bruce Smith sacked Jeff Hostetler in the end zone in Super Bowl XXV.

Manning got the ball back and led the Giants on a nine-play, 78-yard drive culminated by a 2-yard scoring toss to UMass' Victor Cruz. It was 9-0 Giants and the Patriots had run only one offensive play.

But Brady collected himself and led the Patriots to points on three of the next four drives. Stephen Gostkowski finally kicked a Super Bowl field goal, from 29 yards out to make it 9-3. The Giants then followed with two consecutive drives which were killed on penalties, an illegal huddle infraction by Hakeem Nicks, and a holding call on David Boothe.

Brady got the ball on the Patriot 4 with 4:03 left in the first half. The ball was moved back two yards thanks to a false start penalty on Logan Mankins. Brady then proceeded to lead the Patriots on a 96-yard touchdown drive which ate up all but 15 seconds of the first half. Brady completed all ten passes, featuring mostly Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead. Woodhead finished off the drive with a five-yard scoring catch on a brilliant crossing pattern, beating linebacker Michael Boley.

Getting the ball to start the second half, Brady zipped through the Giant defense and hit Hernandez from 12 yards out to make it 17-9 Patriots with 11:20 left in the third quarter. Brady set a Super Bowl record with sixteen straight completions, and was reminding everyone of Phil Simms and his 22-of-25 performance in Super Bowl XXI.

But Manning was doing well himself. From that point, the Giants outscored the Patriots 12-0, the defense tightened the screws, and Manning was able to make just enough plays to bring his team its fourth Super Bowl win in franchise history. The Giants scored on three of their final four possessions, and Manning was surgically precise and beautifully efficient in bringing the Giants home in the end.

Following the Hernandez touchdown, Manning hit Nicks with passes of eight and eleven yards, but hard hits on Mario Manningham by Patrick Chung and Sterling Moore forced the Giants to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes. After a three-and-out by the Patriot offense, Manning got the ball near midfield, hit Nicks for 17 yards, tight end Bear Pascoe for 12 yards, and Tynes connected from 33 yards to make it 17-15 Patriots after Rob Ninkovich sacked Manning for a six-yard loss to stall the drive.

Brady killed the next drive with the game's only turnover. Rolling to his right and evading a fierce pass rush, he saw Rob Gronkowski deep in single coverage with linebacker Chase Blackburn. A healthy Gronk maybe pulls down the catch, but it was Blackburn who made the pick in a leaping grab at the Giant 8. Manning drove the Giants to the Patriot 43, but a non-call on Moore defending Manningham forced a Giant punt.

Brady had the ball at the Patriot 8 with 9:24 left. Manning was forced to burn two timeouts on the previous drive. All the Patriots had to do was to get into field goal range and leave Manning with 30 seconds or less. Brady did drive the Patriots to the Giant 43, then normally reliable receivers let their quarterback, and their team, down.

On second and 11, Brady once again scrambled away from a fierce pass rush and saw a wide open Welker deep down the left seam. Brady lofted the ball a little high but catchable for Welker, and he simply dropped the normally easy catch. On third down, Brady zipped one into Deion Branch, but he was unable to make the catch. Zoltan Mesko was forced to punt, and he pinned the Giants back on their 12-yard line with 3:46 to go and one timeout.

Needing a defensive stop, it never came. The first play was a miracle catch by Manningham at the 50 for 38 yards. He barely kept both feet in bounds with Moore and Chung all over him. Bill Belichick was forced to try a challenge, and it cost him a valuable timeout that would be needed later.

Ironically, after Manning inevitably drove the Giants to the Patriot 6 with 1:04 left, the Giants almost blew the game in a strange way. The Patriots had one timeout left. Ahmad Bradshaw got the handoff, but Brandon Spikes let him go with the intent on giving up the touchdown to avoid losing on a walkoff field goal. Bradshaw raced to the goal line, then pulled up short. But Bradshaw could not avoid falling into the end zone, and that act could very well have swung the game back the Patriots' way. It was 21-17 Giants with 57 seconds left, and Brady had his chance to lead his team, and himself, to NFL immortality.

But the final drive was doomed from the start. On first down, Branch dropped a 20-yard pass thrown right to him. On second down, Hernandez dropped an easy throw in a crossing pattern. Brady did manage to drive the Patriots to the 49-yard line, but a Hail Mary on the final play of the game came very close to being caught by Gronkowski. But it fell incomplete, and the Giants had the win.

In the end, Manning delivered the goods again and won a second Super Bowl MVP. The Giant defense shut down the Patriots when they had to, and the Patriot defense could not stop the Giants when they had to. The Giants made the Super plays, the Patriots did not, and that is why the Giants won the Super Bowl and not the Patriots.

Football Camelot is fading away in these parts. Branch, Welker and Hernandez could not make catches that were made ten years ago. Receivers on the other side made catches they didn't make ten years ago. While getting here is nice, winning is the norm.

Or at least it used to be.