By Steve Kallas
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This writer was fortunate to be in the building for Super Bowl 46 (section 638, Row 20, seat (lucky) 13, the next to last row in Lucas Oil Stadium). While there is nothing like being at the game, you miss a lot that you would see on television (with multiple replays, with the ability to actually hear what the referee is saying, etc.). Having said that, the following is to both discuss the game and discuss what was happening in the stadium during the game.
GIANTS GET OUT FRONT EARLY
When brilliant Steve Weatherford pinned the Patriots back (for the first time) early in the game, Tom Brady came out throwing … to nobody. Hard to believe the refs would actually make that call in the Super Bowl, but it really was a pass where no Patriot was within 20 yards of the football. Hard to believe that Brady would throw the ball away 45 yards down the field, but that’s exactly what he did. Was somebody supposed to run a go route? Could Brady really have made such a gigantic (two-point) mistake this early in the game? After the game, Brady would say that it was a judgment call on the part of the officials. It looked like he might have actually stepped outside of the pocket on the throw (watch the replay), but it was still a huge mistake early in the game.
After the Patriots punted the ball back to the Giants (following the safety), the Giants drove the ball down the field and were able to survive a Victor Cruz fumble (recovered by the Patriots but nullified by a 12-men-on-the-field penalty). If you were at the game, even this early in the game, you saw that the Patriots were having trouble getting the right guys into the game. There was Patriot confusion early on a number of plays and, of course, when Cruz catches the TD pass from Eli Manning a short time later, it was clear that the Patriots had shot themselves in the foot.
THE PATRIOTS COME ROARING BACK
In the second quarter, the Giants had their own 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty (both “12 man” penalties surprising given both coaching staffs) but certainly not as costly. With the Patriots down 9-3, Steve Weatherford once again (seemingly) buries the Patriots on their own four with another great punt but, after a Patriots false start (half-the-distance, back to the Patriots 2), Brady goes lights out (10-10) and moves the Patriots 98 yards to score just before the half to go up 10-9.
If you were at the game, it was, frankly, a little deflating to Giants fans who had seen their team take the equivalent of a 20-6 lead in a basketball game only to be down at the half. People in the stands (including this writer) thought the first possession of the second half would be key (as the Patriots had won the toss and deferred).
Sure enough, the Patriots come out and drive the ball 79 yards to take a 17-9 lead. Brady winds up throwing 16 consecutive completions (a Super Bowl record) and, frankly, it looked like the Patriots were playing 11 against 9. It looked that easy. While back in New York the last two days I haven’t heard one Giant fan say that they were worried after this drive (I think there is some after-the-fact revisionism here), I can tell you first-hand that there were many Giant fans worried after drives of 98 and 79 yards back-to-back by the Patriots. The only thing to hold on to was the fact that the Giants were down only eight which could be made up with a TD and two-point conversion.
THE GIANTS REGAIN CONTROL
The two field goal drives by the Giants can’t be underestimated in the context of this game. With very good field position (from their own 35 and then the Patriots 48), the Giants only had to move the ball a little to make it a 17-15 Patriots lead. They also survived another fumble during the second field goal drive by recovering a fumble by Nicks at the Patriots 33.
But probably the biggest play of the game (other than the Manningham amazing catch) was Justin Tuck’s sack of Tom Brady in the middle of the third quarter. At the game, you could clearly see on the sidelines that Brady was hurt and certainly, no matter what “adjustments” the Giants made after those two tremendous Patriot drives, this sack clearly hurt Brady’s non-throwing shoulder and, in this writer’s opinion, changed Brady’s performance the rest of the game.
In the fourth quarter came the amazing Chase Blackburn interception. Brady, scrambling before throwing the ball 55-yards in the air, must have thought that Gronkowski could make a play. Maybe he forgot that Gronkowski was hurt. If you were at the game, you knew early on that Gronkowski simply couldn’t run hard by watching him away from the play. Blackburn (a linebacker 50 yards down the field – that almost never happens) actually boxed out Gronkowski to make the play.
By then, of course, Giant fans had come to life. Needing only a field goal, with the best fourth-quarter QB in the game and a defense that was able to stop Brady after those monster drives, things looked much better for the Giants. But then Ahmad Bradshaw fumbles on his own 11 (recovered, of course, by the Giants). Then, on 3rd and 7, Eli threw an incomplete pass but the Patriots were called for an off-sides penalty and, at that point, you had to think the football Gods were with the Giants. But the Patriots forced the Giants to punt and Brady came back on the field.
But he just wasn’t Tom Brady, for whatever reason. Drops? Sure. But he was a little behind Branch a couple of times. And while Wes Welker took all the blame for that key 2nd and 11 drop which, arguably, could have ended the game, it wasn’t a perfectly thrown ball (catchable? Absolutely. Well-thrown? Absolutely not.).
ELI DOES WHAT ELI DOES
So when Eli Manning trots on to the field with 3:46 left, Giant fans were very confident. Eli makes the throw of the season to Mario Manningham down the left sideline for 38 yards and Bill Belichick, in this writer’s opinion, incorrectly decides to challenge it (they showed a replay at Lucas Oil after virtually every play and it was clear, after one replay, that it was a good catch). Coaches this season have often resorted to the “prayer” challenge (that is, maybe the refs won’t see what happened and reverse a good call). While Al Michaels stated (on the telecast) that Belichick was “almost compelled to challenge,” the reality is that he wasn’t compelled to do anything at that point. Of course, the loss of that time out would really hurt the Patriots later.
Eli then moves the Giants down the field and gets the ball to the Patriots 18 with two minutes left. At the game, people in the stands were already talking about whether the Patriots should just let the Giants score. While this writer thought it was too early (at the 18-yard line), it seemed like a very good idea when Bradshaw got to the 11 with 1:52 left.
POSSIBLY THE BIGGEST MISTAKE IN SUPER BOWL HISTORY?
For whatever reason, Belichick waits until the Giants have the ball on the 6 with 1:04 left (after the Patriots use their second time out) and then decides to let the Giants score. Inexplicably, Ahmad Bradshaw runs untouched to the one-yard line, pauses, and then falls into the end zone untouched (in fact, it looked like the Patriots were coming to help him get in if he was falling down on the one).
There is some more revisionism going on in New York now, in this writer’s opinion. The notion that the Giants should have scored the touchdown, as opposed to falling down at the one and kicking an extra-point length field goal much closer to the end of the game, is absurd. No matter what you hear now, to give Tom Brady 57 seconds with one time out (should have been two, by the way, but for Belichick’s gaffe), is absurd. If the Patriots had caught that Hail Mary on the deflection, this I-don’t-know-if-I-want-to-score TD would have been viewed to be the greatest mistake in Super Bowl (NFL?) history. The fact that the Giants never talked about this (Eli said he yelled at Bradshaw not to score after he handed him the ball) is a colossal mistake. But, as usual, winning covers all of these mistakes, even gigantic ones (plus, on replay, Eli actually made a small touchdown sign as Bradshaw crossed the goal line).
At the game, Giant fans (including this writer) were thrilled but mortified. It was obvious what the Patriots were doing (frankly, it was surprising that they didn’t do it earlier). The after-the-fact analyses that you never know what can happen on a kick or that we have a good defense are both absurd. There was a one-in-a-hundred chance of missing an extra-point field goal to win the Super Bowl. What are the odds of Brady scoring a TD with 57 seconds and one time-out? Whatever you think it is, it has to be higher than 1%.
But to the victor goes the spoils (and rightfully so) and, over time, if not already, the common view will be that the Giants made the right play.
Don’t believe it.
AT THE GAME
Just a few things. Obviously, a dome is a beautiful place to go to a game from a comfort perspective. But you really have to put an asterisk next to some of these absurd passing numbers for dome QBs. You can’t compare playing in a dome to playing in the Northeast, especially in December/January (although maybe not this past December/January). Maybe I’m just a New York City guy, but I prefer football outside in the elements.
You can’t be shocked at prices anywhere if you are a New Yorker. $50 to park ($100 right near the stadium), $20 for a program, $11 for a beer and $5 for a bottle of water. If you’ve been to a Yankee game, these aren’t shocking. What was hard to stomach (literally and figuratively) was the not big, just OK hot dog for $8. When two hot dogs and one bottle of water cost $21, well, that’s a bit much.
While Indianapolis did a nice job, there were so many street closures and cop cars that it was scary leaving the building (you were scrunched into a two to three block area that was like a cattle car). Once you broke free from that, you were fine. And if you think the prices were ridiculous for this Super Bowl (and they were), imagine what it will be like if the Giants make the Super Bowl and play in their Stadium two years from now (certainly a possibility).
Finally, while I personally think it’s absurd to have a half-time two-and-a-half times the length of a normal half-time (it could, at least in theory, change the game), it was a spectacle. But Roman Gladiators, “stars” from other countries giving the finger (MIA should find out what MIA really means now) and other absurdities just don’t do it for this writer. In addition, you couldn’t really hear Madonna (and that was due to poor acoustics, not to crowd noise).
Well, that’s easy. While everybody agrees that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are Hall-of Famers, this writer believes that Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin are there now as well. Brady and Belichick have removed themselves from the greatest ever conversation and Eli and Coughlin have catapulted themselves into football immortality.
And they still have time to add to their legacy.