Monday, February 4, 2008
One of the great upsets and great dramas in sports history produced more than just one winner – the New York Giants – and one loser – the New England Patriots. The game within a game (not to mention the television broadcast), a week of Super Bowl excess and the crushed shot at history for the Patriots produced all of the following:
WINNER: The Giants' defensive front
Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Fred Robbins, Jay Alford, et al. dominated this football game, pressuring Tom Brady like no other opponent all season.
It wasn't just the five sacks. It wasn't just the rushes that threw off Brady's timing and derailed the usually high-octane Patriots offense. It was how Brady was edged even when he wasn't pressured, how he overthrew wide-open receivers and made too-quick decisions. It was the false starts by the overwhelmed Patriots line.
It's unlikely even Tom Coughlin thought his team could win 17-14, more likely thinking his team needed to get at least 28 points. But the line did it. The Giants thoroughly outplayed the Patriots in this game, and this was where it started.
WINNER: Eli Manning
He long has been doubted and often has been hammered by fans and in the media. In truth, he often has deserved it. But he matured in this postseason, and his fourth-quarter drive will cement his legend in New York forever.
The numbers – 19-of-34 passing, 255 yards – never will tell the story of a guy who kept the mistakes to the minimum and, when needed, played like an all-time great.
"Eli Manning Super Bowl MVP" was a phrase that probably no one – not even Archie Manning (by the way, can we have some new sons?) – would have believed just a month ago. But here we are, Eli looking on that final drive like Brady did in his first Super Bowl triumph over the St. Louis Rams.
LOSER: Bill Belichick
His third-quarter decision to go for it on fourth-and-13 rather than kick a 49-yard field goal will be analyzed forever. His kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, was at the end but certainly within his range. A successful kick would have made the game 10-3 and, eventually, 17-17.
Even if he missed, the field position loss wasn't that bad (Giants' 31-yard line). Fourth-and-13 is about as low percentage as it gets, and for Belichick to make such a confused tactical decision seemed to help build confidence in the Giants.
MorrisWINNER: 1972 Dolphins
They remain the only perfect team in the NFL's Super Bowl era, their spot in history secure for, who knows, maybe another 35 years. If this Patriots team couldn't navigate the salary cap era's first 19-0 season, then who can?
LOSER: The rest of us
Who have to continue hearing Mercury Morris and his fellow grumpy old men crow about it.
WINNER: Plaxico Burress
Not so much for his winning TD catch – he was all alone and should have made it – but his prediction of 23-17. It was an overblown story, but it is worth noting Brady's reaction.
"We're only going to score 17 points?" Brady said with a laugh. "OK. Is Plax playing defense?"
Turns out New England wished it could have scored 17.
TyreeWINNER: Eli Manning to David Tyree
Perhaps no play epitomized the Giants' heart in this game more than their last hookup. First, Manning was all but sacked three different times, somehow fought it all off, scrambled free and made a desperation throw for an against-the-helmet, test of wills 32-yard catch by Tyree.
That was the stuff of legend.
All over Phoenix this week hung signs that read "Who Wants It More?" Turns out it was a former sixth-round pick.
LOSER: Tom Brady
The guy was harassed all night and did deliver a late-game touchdown drive, but his body language and facial expressions throughout were anything but his old cool self. When the going got really tough in this game (aside from the aforementioned series), he couldn't find a way to make this offense move the football. For someone who always had been so great in the most tense of moments, this was an unexpected stumble.
WINNER: "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles"
The Fox show not only looks somewhat promising but also its in-game advertisements where the terminators arrived to beat up the Fox robot were something football fans have been waiting for all season. Since when does a robot need high knees to "warm up"? Plus, it has been trash talking all season. The beat down was long overdue. Of course, the robot returned, indestructible like a terminator, apparently.
PettyWINNER: Tom Petty
Petty never seemed like a real flashy act, and he served himself well by keeping the Super Bowl pyrotechnics to a minimum and just playing four of his classics. It may not go down as the most memorable Super Bowl halftime show, but it was a definite crowd pleaser and certainly loved by his fans.
Super Bowl acts usually fail when they try to do too much – or in the infamous Justin Timberlake-Janet Jackson encounter, reveal too much. There's nothing wrong with keeping it simple.
LOSER: Bill Belichick fashion
BelichickWhy mess with the championship karma of the gray hoodie and go with that strange new red hoodie? Was it a play to the team's old colors and Pat the Patriot logo? Or an effort to push more merchandise? There weren't any Patriots fans watching who didn't get worried when they first saw the red hoodie, which, predictably, didn't even look good.
His postgame interview was priceless, though – forever the epitome of the devastated coach.
WINNER: New York-Boston rivalry
It just gets more intense from here on out, with New York delivering its answer for the Red Sox's historic 2004 American League Championship Series victory over the Yankees after trailing 3-0.
WelkerWINNER: Wes Welker
Along with Kevin Faulk, Welker was the Patriot who showed up and delivered like it was a Super Bowl. His 11 catches for 103 yards weren't just impressive; they often were back-breaking numbers on crucial third downs.
LOSER: Phoenix as a host city
It's far too spread out and the downtown lacks life, which means you wouldn't even know the Super Bowl was really happening. The stadium is nice, but it is one of the strangest architectural works you'll see, plopped down in the middle of a suburb that still is a lot of desert. The NFL's decision to stage its fan "NFL Experience" out in a parking lot there didn't help. Oh, and it's not even warm there this time of year.
WINNER: Troy Aikman
He was insightful but not noisy, entertaining but not overbearing – a fine effort from a guy who has moved seamlessly from Super Bowl field to broadcast booth in short time. Maybe best of all, he so recently won three championships but in remembering why everyone is watching didn't relate every story back to him.
WINNER: The "7" and "3" squares
A double winner after the second and third quarters; a payout oddity that almost was even better – it was within seconds of being the first-quarter winner also.
CoughlinWINNER: Tom Coughlin
The man was best known for never smiling. Then came this year when he buddied up with the players, tried to enjoy life a little bit and let everyone in the franchise breathe a bit.
Maybe this is the Tony Dungy effect on the NFL.
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