GLENDALE, Ariz. - With the Super Bowl on the line, look who had the perfection thing down Pat: Eli Manning and the road-conquering New York Giants.
And what a beauty their 11th straight road victory was, a 17-14 Super Bowl win Sunday that shattered the New England Patriots’ unblemished season.
In one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, Manning, New York’s unlikely Mr. Cool, hit Plaxico Burress on a 13-yard fade with 35 seconds left. It was the Giants’ fourth consecutive postseason away win and the first time the Patriots tasted defeat in more than a year.
“There’s something about this team,” Manning said. “The way we win games, and performed in the playoffs in the stretch. We had total confidence in ourselves. The players believed in each other.”
It was the most bitter of losses, too, because 12-point favorite New England (18-1) was one play from winning and getting the ultimate revenge for being penalized for illegally taping opponents’ defensive signals in the season opener against the New York Jets.
“I don’t rank them,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s disappointing.”
The Giants had the perfect answer for the suddenly imperfect Patriots: a big, bad defense and the improbable comeback led by Manning. Yes, Eli Manning, who outplayed league MVP Tom Brady and furthered the family legacy one year after older brother Peyton led Indianapolis to the title.
“I talked to Peyton and he said, ‘Go in there, have some fun, you can do it.”’
It was how Eli and the Giants did it.
“It’s the greatest feeling in professional sports,” Burress said before bursting into tears.
“That’s a position you want to be in,” said Manning, who followed Peyton’s MVP performance last year with one of his own. “You can’t write a better script. There were so many big plays on that drive.”
And now the 1972 Miami Dolphins can pop another bottle of champagne in celebration of a record still intact, the NFL’s only perfect season.
“As for the 1972 Dolphins, I don’t take joy in the fact the Patriots lost — period,” said Jim Mandich, the tight end on the 17-0 team. “But I do relish and savor the fact that there has only been one unbeaten team in the history of the NFL, and it is the 1972 Miami Dolphins.”
The Patriots were done in not so much by the pressure of the first unbeaten season in 35 years as by the pressure of a smothering Giants pass rush. Brady, winner of his first three Super Bowls, was sacked five times, hurried a dozen more and at one point wound up on his knees, his hands on his hips following one of many poor throws in New England’s lowest scoring game of the season.
“They played well,” a dour Belichick said. “They made some plays. We made some plays. They just made a few more. We played as hard as we could. We just couldn’t make enough plays.”
Oddly, it was a loss to the Patriots that sparked New York’s stunning run to its third Super Bowl and sixth NFL title. New England won 38-35 in Week 17 to finish the spotless regular season. But by playing hard in a meaningless game for them, the Giants (14-6) gained something of a swagger and Manning found his footing.
Their growing confidence carried them through playoff victories at Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay, and then past the mightiest opponent of all.
“Every team is beatable, you never know,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “The right moment, the right time, every team is beatable.”
That it was Manning taking that knee was stunning. He showed the maturity and brilliant precision late in the game usually associated with, well, Brady.
Peyton Manning was seen in a luxury box jumping up and pumping both fists when Burress, who didn’t practice all week because of injuries, caught the winning score.
“We just hung in there on offense, kept executing,” said Burress, who wasn’t far off on the 23-17 prediction he made a few days ago. “It came down to one play and we made it.”
The Giants became the first NFC wild card team to win a Super Bowl; four AFC teams have done it. They also are the second wild-card champions in three years, following the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 2005 season.
“It’s the way we went about our work,” Coughlin said of the 11-1 road record. “The road signified the coming together of a team. We rode that emotion all the way through.”
The upset also could be viewed as a source of revenge not only for the Giants, but for the other NFL teams over Spygate back in September. That cheating scandal made headlines again late in Super Bowl week, and could have placed an infinite cloud over New England’s perfection.
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