News From Terre Haute, Indiana

From the Press Box

February 6, 2012

FROM THE PRESS BOX: Peyton’s place belongs to Eli

INDIANAPOLIS — The good people of Indianapolis justifiably puffed out their chests throughout Super Bowl week as the city received deserved rave reviews for the job it did as hosts of Super Bowl XLVI.

Up until the final minute of the game itself, it appeared that the last breath heaved by proud Hoosiers would be a sigh of disappointment.

The New England Patriots were leading the Super Bowl with a minute to go. The Patriots? Winning a championship on the Indianapolis Colts’ homefield? What a comedown.

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning made sure Colts fans could remember the Super Bowl with a spring in their step.

On the same field where older brother Peyton has cemented his Hall of Fame legacy, Eli put down a foundation stone of his own.

Manning was brilliant in the Giants’ 21-17 victory. He completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown. While two of the four Giants’ scoring drives ended in the field goals, Manning never mucked up the works, finally putting to rest the perception that he’s not cut from the same cloth as his big brother.

I suppose he’s not. Eli has two Super Bowl championships, Peyton has one.

“This isn’t about one person. This is about a team coming together, getting this win,” Eli Manning said. “We never got discouraged, kept our faith and kept our confidence and just fought to the very end.”

While New England quarterback Tom Brady set a Super Bowl record with 16 consecutive completions in the Patriots’ pair of touchdown drives to put New England in front, Manning let the game come back to him. Eighteen of the Giants’ first downs were gained via Manning’s arm. He completed his first nine passes of the game, a Super Bowl record.

Still, it was a steady, not spectacular, performance — until the first play of the Giants’ game-winning drive. It will be Eli Manning’s signature play for the remainder of his career.

Trailing 17-15 and backed up at their own 12 with 3:46 to go, the Giants rolled the dice. Manning dropped back and threw to Mario Manningham along the left sideline. Manningham was double-covered by New England safeties Sterling Moore and Patrick Chung. It could be easily argued it was a forced throw.

But Eli Manning possesses one trait brother Peyton sometimes doesn’t have — Eli has been known to gamble. He will improvise when the chips are down.

“They were in Cover-2. Usually that is not your match-up. They had us covered pretty well to the right. I looked that way. I saw I had the safety cheated in a little bit and threw it down the sideline,” Manning said.

It helps that he delivered the kind of surgical strike that Peyton is renowned for — a perfect delivery to Manningham, who did a great job himself of keeping two feet down on the sideline as Moore and Chung tried in vain to knock it away.

In a game filled with routine plays, the 38-yard strike to Manningham was a championship play.

“Great catch by [Manningham], keeping both feet in. That’s a huge play in the game right there; when you’re backed up, to get a [38]-yard gain and get to the middle of the field. It’s was a big, big, big-time play,” Manning said.

Four Manning completions later, Ahmad Bradshaw scored the oddest championship-winning touchdown in the annals of the Super Bowl and the Giants survived a Brady Hail Mary at the gun to seal the deal.

While Eli deflected praise and heaped it on his teammates, it was left to the patriarch of the Manning clan, Archie Manning, to put it in perspective Eli’s championship on the field where Peyton has made his bones.

“I think it’s special because of the city here. This city has meant a lot to our family for 14 years, and I’ve been here all week. It is special,” Archie Manning said. “[Eli] just hung in there. He was patient, and he had to be patient. He was sacked some early and it wasn’t easy. There wasn’t anything easy out there. He played like a quarterback needs to play.”

Peyton Manning’s future with the Colts is a very open question. He may never get a chance to have a Lucas Oil Stadium swan song to mark his spell-binding career.

If Peyton couldn’t win a championship in Indy, Eli winning it was the next-best thing. And the Giants quarterback might have cemented his own Hall of Fame legacy to go with it.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Please follow him on Twitter @TribStarTodd.

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