INDIANAPOLIS — There was no perfect season on the line this time, but the New York Giants did it again to Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Quarterback Eli Manning engineered the big drive in crunch time when the Giants needed it and New York beat the Patriots, 21-17, on Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in another down-to-the-wire Super Bowl between these rivals.
A season that began with Manning declaring himself an elite quarterback ended with him backing up that proclamation with his second Super Bowl most valuable player performance.
“I just know we’re world champions tonight,” Manning said, “and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
After crafting six fourth-quarter, game-winning drives during the regular season, five of them to cap fourth-quarter comebacks, Manning pulled off that feat again in another nerve-rattling Super Bowl. The Giants, trailing by two points, drove 88 yards to the winning touchdown on a six-yard run by tailback Ahmad Bradshaw with 57 seconds left.
It was one of the oddest game-winning touchdowns in Super Bowl history. The Patriots, trying to preserve their final timeout and precious seconds on the clock for their offense, allowed Bradshaw to score. Bradshaw, realizing that, attempted to stop just shy of the goal line but tumbled into the end zone.
“We didn’t talk about it” before the play, Bradshaw said. “Eli was handing me the ball and telling me not to score. I tried to tap myself down, declare myself down, but my momentum carried me into the end zone. It was a strange play.”
Said Manning: “It’s a mistake by me. I had a feeling they might do that. I should have told him [before the play] not to score.”
The strategy didn’t work. The Giants failed on a two-point conversion attempt and the Patriots took over at their 20-yard line for a last-gasp drive. Brady kept them alive with a fourth-and-16 completion, and New England reached its 49-yard line. But Brady’s desperation heave into the distant end zone as time expired was tipped and fell incomplete beyond the outstretched hands of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“We just came up a little bit short,” Brady said. “I think we had a couple of missed opportunities out there. Every guy in the locker room wishes he could have done a little bit more.”
Belichick acknowledged instructing his defense to let the Giants score, saying he didn’t want the clock to wind down for a short-range Giants field goal that almost certainly would have been successful. His players backed their coach.
“Bill has always put us in the best position to succeed,” Patriots safety James Ihedigbo said. “No matter what, we trust him. He wanted to put the ball in Tom’s hands. That’s the decision he made and we support him.”
Brady said: “I like it. . . . We had a chance to win there at the end. We just didn’t do it.”
The Giants became the first team to win a Super Bowl after going 9-7 in the regular season. They won six straight games, four of them in the postseason, after their record dropped to 7-7.
“We’ve won so many games like this,” Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said.
Manning had a touchdown pass and completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards. He didn’t throw an interception as he secured his second Super Bowl triumph over the Patriots in tandem with Coughlin. Manning also was the MVP four years ago when the Giants denied the Patriots what would have been the first 19-0 season in NFL history.
“This isn’t about one person,” Manning said. “This about a team coming together, getting this win. I’m just proud of our guys, proud of the team and how we fought all year.”
The Giants jumped to an early 9-0 lead on a safety, courtesy of an intentional-grounding penalty on Brady in the end zone, and a touchdown pass from Manning to wide receiver Victor Cruz. But the Patriots scored 17 straight points as Brady threw touchdown passes to running back Danny Woodhead and tight end Aaron Hernandez, at one point completing 16 straight passes, to break the mark of 13 set by Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana.
Brady threw an interception as he went 27 for 41 for 276 yards. He was denied in his bid to match the record of four Super Bowl victories for a quarterback by Montana, his boyhood hero, and Terry Bradshaw. Belichick failed in his attempt to tie Chuck Noll for the most Super Bowl triumphs by a coach with four.
After two Lawrence Tynes field goals, the Patriots led 17-15 entering the fourth quarter. But Brady threw his lone interception to Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn, who outleaped an injured Gronkowski for the ball, and it was Manning who made the necessary plays down the stretch. Gronkowski had only two catches for the Patriots as he played on an injured ankle.
On another critical play with time running down and Patriots looking to pad their lead, the usually sure-handed Wes Welker, who led the NFL in receptions this year, could not come up with a difficult pass from Brady.
“It hurts to get that close and fall short,” Patriots guard Logan Mankins said.
The Giants dominated in the early going, running 19 of the game’s first 20 plays. Manning completed his first nine passes, the best start to a game in Super Bowl history.
Brady gave the Giants the lead when he released a throw from his own end zone just before being hit by defensive end Justin Tuck, and was called for intentional grounding when the pass landed on the turf deep down the middle of the field with no receiver nearby. The Giants took the resulting free kick by the Patriots and drove to the game’s first touchdown on Manning’s two-yard pass to Cruz.
The Patriots finally started moving on offense but had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by kicker Stephen Gostkowski. The New England defense toughened in the second quarter and Brady found his rhythm, completing his final 11 first-half passes. He was 10 for 10 as the Patriots went 96 yards, matching the longest drive in Super Bowl history, en route to a touchdown eight seconds before halftime on Brady’s four-yard pass to Woodhead.
Brady was 5 for 5 on the Patriots’ opening second-half drive. His 16th straight completion was a 12-yard touchdown strike to Hernandez. The Giants replied with a pair of field goals by Tynes later in the third quarter.