Until the frantic fourth quarter, the only scoring came on the game’s first two drives.
The Giants did almost exactly what they sought with the opening kickoff, using up nearly 10 minutes to go 63 yards. Almost exactly, but not quite, because they settled for a 32-yard field goal after converting four third downs on the 16-play series. The 9:59 drive was the longest in Super Bowl history.
That 3-0 lead lasted for the rest of the quarter, but only because the Patriots were stopped at New York’s 1 as the period expired. On the next play, Laurence Maroney scored.
New England’s 12-play drive was aided by a 16-yard pass interference penalty on linebacker Antonio Pierce in the end zone. It began with Maroney’s 43-yard kickoff runback.
It was the fewest possessions in the first quarter of a Super Bowl.
New York’s first series of the second quarter looked dangerous after Amani Toomer’s lunging sideline catch for 38 yards. But rookie Steve Smith mishandled Manning’s throw at the New England 10, Ellis Hobbs intercepted and returned it 23 yards.
Those are opportunities teams can’t waste against a strong opponent, let alone the Patriots. It was Manning’s first interception of the postseason, albeit entirely not his fault; the last was by Hobbs in the season finale.
The Giants survived rookie Ahmad Bradshaw’s fumble, which he recovered, on their next series, because their league-leading pass rush came alive when the Patriots got the ball back. New York sacked Brady on successive plays, forcing a punt, but the Giants’ were hurt by an illegal batting of the ball penalty on Bradshaw after reaching the New England 25.
Justin Tuck’s second sack, in the final seconds of the half, forced a fumble recovered by New York teammate Osi Umenyiora. The Giants’ celebrated defensive line controlled much of the half, holding the most prolific offense in NFL history to a measly 81 yards and seven points. New England had the ball only 10:33.
“We played them five weeks ago and it was a three-point game,” Brady said. “And they made enough changes and really eliminated what we did offensively.”
But New York’s mistakes left the Giants with just three points at halftime — and there are no moral victories in Super Bowls.
So the Giants got a real one as the maturing Manning hung in to find Tyree for a 5-yard touchdown to cap an 80-yard drive for a 10-7 lead.
Pressed unlike they are accustomed to, the Patriots responded with their own 80-yard march as Brady finally got some time. Moss, who caught a record 23 of Brady’s record 50 TD throws this year, scored with 2:42 to go when cornerback Corey Webster fell. The first 19-0 season was right there.
Eli and the Giants snatched it away.
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