Eli Manning, champs best at both ends

February 6, 2012


— Super Bowls most often are won and lost at two points of the game.

The first point is the beginning. That’s when teams make statements, establish patterns and take control or lose it.

In the opening minutes, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was so precise you would have felt comfortable if he were putting a scalpel to your sternum.

He was, in fact, operating on the Patriots.

He completed his first nine passes, which set a Super Bowl record. More importantly, he helped the Patriots to a 9-0 lead, first by setting up his defense for a safety, and then by completing a 2-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz.

Early on, the only way to prevent Manning from completing a pass was to put him on the ground before he could unload it.

The second point when Super Bowls are won and lost is, of course, crunch time.

Or should we call it Eli time?

As good as Manning was after the opening bell, he was better near the closing bell.

By the time 9:35 was left in the game, Manning was down two tight ends and had used two of three timeouts. The Giants trailed 17-15.

The odds were against him.

But odds don’t matter to Manning, whose Giants came into the game as a 3-point underdog. They came into the Super Bowl four years ago as a 12-point underdog and won.

A nice fourth-quarter drive broke down when Mario Manningham couldn’t get his feet inbounds on a beautiful Manning throw, and then Sterling Moore broke up a pass intended for Manningham. It appeared Moore interfered, but the Giants did not get the call.

After a Patriots’ possession, the Giants took over on their own 12 with 3:46 left.

Manningham made up for his previous plays with a spectacular grab against Moore on the sideline. It went for 38 yards, which made it the longest play of the game. It was ruled a completion on the field, but Bill Belichick challenged the call. The ruling was upheld.

It was the first play of a nine-play, 88-yard drive in which Manning was just brilliant. Just as Kelly Clarkson hit the high notes at the end of the national anthem, Manning hit the high notes at the end of the game.

Manning also had completions of 16, 2, 14 and 4 yards on the drive, which culminated with a 6-yard touchdown run by Ahmad Bradshaw with 57 seconds left.

That gave Tom Brady the ball and enough time for an Eli imitation.

But this one belonged to Manning.

“That was quite a drive that he was able to put together,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “He deserves all the credit in the world because he really has put his team on his shoulders all year and performed very well.”

It would have been easy to understand if frustration had set in on the Giants’ sideline. The Giants went more than 47 minutes between touchdowns.

Manning said he never doubted his offense would get it done.

“Stayed positive,” he said. “I knew we were moving the ball. We just weren’t getting touchdowns.”

Manning should not have lacked for confidence. In fact, he has been the NFL’s king of the fourth quarter.

In 2011, he threw 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes to set an NFL record. He also had six fourth-quarter comebacks, which accounted for 67 percent of their victories. His fourth-quarter passer rating for the year was 110.

“He’s had a remarkable year for a fourth-quarter quarterback rating,” Coughlin said. “He’s done an exceptional job. We’ve had this goal of finish, finish, finish. He’s done it.”

Manning completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and had a 103.8 passer rating.

“I’m just happy for the guys,” he said. “I’m happy for everyone in this organization, Coach Coughlin, all of my coaches, all of the players getting a chance to win the Super Bowl. Some of these guys are getting their first one. I feel great for them. I feel great for everybody.”

The only other time Manning played in a Super Bowl, he led his team back from a 14-10 deficit with 2:42 remaining. His 83-yard touchdown drive gave the underdog Giants a 17-14 victory over these same Patriots.

He was the most valuable player in that game, and the most valuable player in this one.

Manning in the fourth quarter? That’s Reggie Jackson in October.


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