IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN!!!
The cry rang out across New England at approximately 9:34 p.m. Sunday night after Mario Manningham’s spectacular sideline grab on the New York Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI-winning drive.
Of course, the cries had very different meanings depending on whether or not they were emanating from someone whose team had some silver mixed in with their red-white-and-blue.
Just moments earlier, the majority of those voices could be heard exulting in a first-down catch by Aaron Hernandez. Then cries of pain surfaced when Tom Brady made off-target throws to a wide-open Wes Welker and a slightly less wide open Deion Branch.
A punt and a season placed in the hands of a resilient but heart-stopping defense against a quarterback who made his name just four years earlier bursting a perfect season bubble with a miracle catch by David Tyree. Agony clashed with anticipation in more than a few living rooms across the six-state region.
Tom Brady, no longer clutch. Eli Manning on the verge of prohibitively claiming the title of the new Two-Minute Kid.
The entire night was encapsulated in the final four minutes. Dramatic swings in momentum from one quarter to the next in the first half, then from one series and even one play to the next in the second half.
The night started with proof that Jason Pierre-Paul was right — the Giants were in Brady’s head.
Brady wasted little time making JPP look like a genius, throwing an inexplicable pass to no one that resulted in an intentional grounding penalty, even though he had more time to throw the ball than he ever had in Super Bowl XLII.
It was an ominous start for the Patriots, made even more forbidding by the kind of drive that has been giving Patriots fans ulcers all year long. The defense was powerless to stop Manning’s dink-and-dunk march, which was topped off by a potential turnover being negated by a careless 12-men penalty.
It was bad enough that Brady had been kidnapped and replaced by Tony Eason before the game. Bill Belichick had apparently given Rod Rust his head set for the first quarter.
A promising drive on the Patriots’ second possession ended with them settling for three points and unsettling their fans even more.
And yet, for the rest of the half, New England’s bend-but-don’t-break defense pulled the plug every time the Giants seemed to be starting another scoring march.
Finally, the 2011 Patriots offense unveiled itself on the final drive of the half. Brady methodically drove them 96 yards in a little over three minutes, capping the drive with a touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead.
For a moment, just a split second, really, I could have sworn the 5-foot-9 Woodhead was the 6-foot-7 Rob Gronkowski, he looked so big in the end zone. Thus ended the most unlikely 10-9 halftime lead in Super Bowl, nay football, history.
The second half started with another great drive, an eight-play, 79-yard excursion in which the Patriots only had one third down. Brady was surgical, five-for-five on the drive with a poised TD pass to Aaron Hernandez to put the Patriots up by eight.
They wouldn’t score again. In hindsight, it’s mind-boggling. How could an offense look that precise on two straight drives and then not do anything the rest of the night?
Fortunately for the Patriots, the Giants still couldn’t couldn’t crack the end zone on their next two drives. At the time, these seemed like minor victories for the Patriots because it seemed likely they had one more scoring drive in them.
But the next drive ended with yet another ill-advised deep throw by Brady, last week to little-used Matt Slater, this time to the gimpy Gronkowski.
Just like four years ago, a fumble that would have changed the game bounced the Giants’ way. The flashbacks started. Yet New England’s defense, valiant all night but for the final drive, made its last stand.
Brady completed short passes to Welker, Wooddhead, Gronkowski and Hernandez on what could have been the game-clinching drive. Yet whether it was the ding he suffered to his sore left shoulder on Justin Tuck’s third quarter sack or just the magnitude of the moment, he couldn’t hit Welker and Branch between the numbers when the drive went into New York territory.
Regardless of what anyone says today, Brady’s career epitaph isn’t written yet, just like it wasn’t seven years ago when he was proclaimed the next Joe Montana. He led a flawed team to the Super Bowl and he’s probably going to end up lesser in some eyes because he was outplayed by another great quarterback.
Manning didn’t make the costly mistakes and made the plays when the game was on the line. He’s the one holding the trophy.
Yep. It happened again.