Where to begin giving credit for the Giants’ monumental upset of the New England Patriots?
The defensive line, maybe: Their ferocious pass rush knocked Tom Brady on his back all night, preventing the Patriots’ passing game from getting off any huge plays. From Michael Strahan’s jersey-grab to Jay Alford’s body slam with 25 second to play, the Giants were relentless. Even in the fourth quarter, when Brady began to break through the blitz with throws in the flat to Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk, the Giants kept up the pressure.
Or the secondary: the rag-tag bunch that had its share of struggles in the regular season blanketed Randy Moss during crunch time on the Super Bowl’s last drive.
It’s hard, though, to attribute the entire team’s resiliency to any one unit. The Giants somehow managed to shake off a number of errors on which the until-recently perfect Patriots have thrived. Antonio Pierce’s interference penalty resulted in the game’s first touchdown. Steve Smith muffed a catch for a costly interception in the red zone. And early in the second half, backup linebacker Chase Blackburn made the kind of blunder that would deflate any team against a juggernaut. After another great stop on third down with just over 11 minutes to play in the second half, Blackburn couldn’t get off the field fast enough after realizing he was the twelfth man. Bill Belichick and his eagle-eyed staff threw out the red challenge and the review supported the Patriots, handing them a first down and another chance with an illegal substitution penalty.
Those mistakes never turned their focus away from the task at hand, especially for Eli Manning and the Giants offense. Despite being unable to establish the run, the Giants picked apart the Patriots’ intelligent defense with depth at wide receiver. The rookie Smith had four receptions resulting in first downs, with the last one setting up Plaxico Burress’ perfect move on Ellis Hobbs for the game-winning score.
And then there was that catch – surely one of the greatest in league history. Manning faced a crucial third down with 1:15 left on the clock and the Patriots sent an extra pass rusher in to blitz. Manning avoided the rush, broke away from two would-be tackles and threw a wild pass. It wasn’t to Burress or trusty Amani Toomer or even Smith. David Tyree, the former Pro Bowl special teams player, made a nearly impossible catch through a double team, squeezing the ball against his helmet while being slammed to the ground.
And the rest, now, is history.