By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2008
GLENDALE, Ariz., Feb. 3 -- The would-be perfect season had the most imperfect of endings for the New England Patriots. Something unexpected happened on their way to a 19-0 record and their anticipated coronation as the greatest team to step on a football field.
The New York Giants pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in Super Bowl history by beating the Patriots, 17-14, in dramatic fashion Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. Quarterback Eli Manning's 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left won it for the Giants.
"We shocked the world," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said, "but not ourselves."
The Patriots had taken the lead on a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady to wideout Randy Moss with 2 minutes 42 seconds to play. But Manning took the Giants down the field, aided by a miraculous 32-yard completion to wide receiver David Tyree after Manning scrambled out of a potential third-down sack, then found Burress open in the corner of the end zone.
The Patriots were the highest-scoring team in NFL history during their 16-0 regular season that culminated with a 38-point performance in a win over the Giants. But they stumbled a bit during the AFC playoffs and they were shut down most of the way Sunday by a Giants defense that put nearly constant pressure on Brady. The Giants amassed five sacks, two of them by Justin Tuck.
"We all respect the Patriots and we all respect Tom Brady," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "But it's our time."
Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will interview for the Washington Redskins' head coaching job Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
The Patriots got 11 catches by wideout Wes Welker, tying a Super Bowl record, and a one-yard touchdown run by tailback Laurence Maroney on the opening play of the second quarter. They took a 7-3 lead into the fourth quarter. But Manning threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Tyree, a special teams ace not known for his contributions on offense, with just over 11 minutes remaining.
The Patriots failed to secure their fourth Super Bowl title in a seven-year span and finished 18-1. The 1972 Miami Dolphins remained the only unbeaten team in NFL history. Brady, playing on an injured right ankle, connected on 29 of 48 passes for 266 yards.
"It's over," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "It didn't happen. We can look back on this year and be happy about some of the things we accomplished. But we didn't finish, and that's what we're about."
Manning threw an interception for the first time in this postseason but became a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with a 19-for-34, 255-yard, two-touchdown outing. He won the Super Bowl a year after his older brother, Peyton, won one with the Indianapolis Colts and, like Peyton, was named the game's most valuable player.
"He did the things in the second half that you need to do to win a Super Bowl," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said.
Said Manning: "That's the situation you want to be in. You want to have to go score a touchdown. I've talked about it before with Peyton. You can't write a better script. It's an unbelievable feeling."
The talk early in the week had been about Brady's ailing ankle. He suffered a mild high ankle sprain during the AFC title game and created a stir when he was photographed in New York soon after, near the apartment of girlfriend Gisele Bundchen, with a protective boot over his right foot. But Brady practiced all last week and played the game without a brace on his ankle.
The talk late in the week had returned to "Spygate," the scandal in which the Patriots were punished by Commissioner Roger Goodell for using videotaping equipment to steal the play signals of New York Jets coaches in the opening game of the season.
By Sunday evening, however, the focus w as back to the Patriots' pursuit of history. The roof to the stadium was closed and players talked about the field being a fast track. The perfect conditions seemed to favor the Patriots and their pass-first offense. But the Giants were certain they could compete, having lost by three points to the Patriots in a regular season finale that was televised by three networks.
"Every team," Coughlin said, "is beatable."
Said Tyree: "They're regular guys. They bleed like us, and that's the way we went out there."
The Giants won the coin toss, received the opening kickoff and promptly crafted the most time-consuming drive in Super Bowl history. Manning provided a pair of early third-down completions for first downs. The Giants managed a first down at the Patriots 17-yard line, but stalled and settled for a 32-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes that came 9:59 into the game.
The Patriots had a swift reply on their first possession, following a 43-yard kickoff return by Maroney with a steady 56-yard touchdown drive. A pass interference penalty on Pierce in the end zone gave the Patriots a first down at the Giants 1, and Maroney bulled into the end zone on second down.
Both offenses unraveled from there. The Giants drove to the Patriots 14. But Manning had a third-down pass deflect off the hands of wide receiver Steve Smith. Cornerback Ellis Hobbs grabbed the ball on the carom for the interception. The Giants suffered a sack and a botched handoff on their following possession, and Manning lost the ball on a sack on the drive after that. The Giants retained possession on both gaffes, but their missteps were keeping them from scoring.
The Patriots also were running in place. Brady was sacked on consecutive plays, once by Tuck, on one second-quarter possession. The next time the Patriots had the ball, Moss managed his first catch of the night but Brady lost a fumble on another sack by Tuck near midfield with 10 seconds to play in the half. When Manning's desperation heave into the Patriots' end zone fell incomplete, it was a 7-3 game at the break -- not exactly what had been expected from teams that combined for 73 points in their regular season meeting.
Coach Bill Belichick gave the Patriots a chance to add to their lead early in the third quarter with a successful instant replay challenge that the Giants had an extra man on the field for a New England punt. Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn was sprinting toward the sideline but didn't quite make it by the time the ball was snapped, and the five-yard penalty gave the Patriots a first down at the Giants 39.
The Patriots reached the 25 but Brady was sacked by Strahan on third down. Facing fourth and 13 at the 31, Belichick opted against a 49-yard field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski, whose longest field goal during the regular season was 45 yards. Brady threw a fourth-down incompletion.
The Giants moved into Patriots territory but Burress couldn't hold on to Manning's third-down pass, resulting in a punt. The Patriots' next drive stalled near midfield and the game entered the fourth quarter as, to that point, the second-lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history.
But Manning and rookie tight end Kevin Boss teamed for a big play on the Giants' first offensive play of the fourth quarter. Boss, filling in for the injured Jeremy Shockey, got open against veteran safety Rodney Harrison. He caught Manning's on-target throw and kept going for a 45-yard play. That got the Giants to the Patriots 35. Manning zipped a third-down throw to wideout Steve Smith for a 16-yard completion to the 12 and later, on second down from the 5, found Tyree in the middle of the end zone for the touchdown.
"We just kept fighting," Burress said. "Our defense kept us in the game. They held the most potent offense in history to 14 points."