Monday, February 4, 2008


It takes a perfect game, or darn close to it, to beat a perfect team. Who knew the Giants, six-time losers in the regular season, had such a game in them? Who knew they would not only stun the previously perfect Patriots 17-14 last night in the Super Bowl but actually hold New England’s record-setting offense to fewer than the 17 points boldly — some would say blindly — predicted by their franchise receiver, Plaxico Burress (New York, 23-17), and one of their owners, Steve Tisch (21-17)? That’s almost unfathomable.

But when you’re trying to beat an 18-0 club seeking its fourth Lombardi Trophy in seven years, you need the unfathomable going for you. Merely bringing your ‘A’ game isn’t going to be enough, isn’t going to keep the Patriots from their rendezvous with destiny.

No, you need to do unfathomable things. Things like driving 83 yards for a touchdown in the last three minutes against one of the most clutch teams the NFL has ever seen. Things like scrambling away for a near-certain sack — as Eli Manning did at the end — and completing a 32-yard pass on third-and-5. Things like going up and catching that pass — as little-known David Tyree did — with, as Giants coach Tom Coughlin put it, “two [Patriots defenders] ripping at the ball. That might have been the greatest play in Super Bowl history.”

It was certainly the greatest play in this game, a play that made Tyree, who scored New York’s first TD on a 5-yard grab, almost the unfathomable MVP. (It also, said ancient Giants warrior Michael Strahan, “took two years off my life.”)

Equally unfathomable was the beating the Giants inflicted on Tom Brady. They hardly laid a glove on him in the team’s first meeting, a 38-35 shootout won by the Patriots with a memorable second-half rally. But in the second go-‘round they sacked him five times and pressured him into an uncharacteristic 19 incompletions.

“They’ve got some great defensive pressure schemes,” Brady said. “In the second half, when we got the idea of what they were doing, I thought we handled it pretty well. We just didn’t get it in the end zone enough.”

Somewhere Dan Snyder is smiling because New York’s defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, is headed to Washington to interview for the Redskins’ coaching job. Spagnuolo’s unit never eased up, never let Brady and the Pats’ precision passing attack get into any kind of comfortable rhythm. It was perhaps the most perfect part of the Giants’ perfect game, though it hardly surprised Strahan.

“Rush the passer — that’s what we do,” he said. “You got a quarterback who likes to throw the ball, we’re going to hit him. This game is a great testament to [Spagnuolo], and I hope he doesn’t leave and go somewhere else.”

Most unfathomable of all, though, was that the Patriots lost a close game in the Super Bowl. After all, their three Super Bowl wins, all by a field goal, had established their reputation as the Team That Never Blinks. And it looked like they were going to pull out another one when Brady passed them 80 yards downfield — a little Wes Welker, a little Kevin Faulk, a little Randy Moss — and gave them a 14-10 lead with 2:42 left on a short flip to Moss.

But unfathomably, even that didn’t dishearten the unsinkable Giants. Manning came right back with a career-defining drive of his own, ultimately finding Burress alone in the end zone for the 13-yard dragon slayer with 35 seconds to go. Talk about hitting the Patriots where they live.

“We couldn’t get the big stop when we needed to [in the last minutes],” Tedy Bruschi said. “When you don’t finish … That’s what we’re all about — finishing the task at hand. We always come to the Super Bowl expecting to win.”

But not this time, unfathomably enough. Instead of being the latest Joe Montana Moment for Brady — Montana’s drive against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII definitely came to mind — it became, in all probability, the Moment When Eli Manning Stopped Being Referred To As Peyton Manning’s Younger Brother. No one can question Eli’s mettle now. Heck, he won his first ring five seasons earlier than Peyton did (in New York, no less, the most merciless market of all). Give the kid his due; he’s a serious gamer.

“Everybody can be beat,” the Giants’ Amani Toomer said. “The Patriots got lucky a couple of times this year against teams that should have beaten them.”

The Patriots didn’t lose, however, because those teams didn’t come equipped with the requisite crucifix, garlic and wooden spikes (for pounding into the Pats’ chests). That’s about the only way to kill the unkillable, to defeat the greatest team in the last decade and one of the greatest of all time.

The Giants had what it took, though, coming up with an unfathomable performance at University of Phoenix Stadium in the biggest game of their lives. The Patriots’ dreams of perfection are dead. The ‘72 Dolphins are still immortal.

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