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February 6, 2012

PATRIOT KILLER: Eli’s heroics starting to look vintage

INDIANAPOLIS — It was a vintage Manning come-from-behind performance in the House That Peyton built.

Eli Manning completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown in rallying the New York Giants to a 21-17 win over New England in Super Bowl XLVI Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was Eli Manning’s second Super Bowl championship in four years, his second title game win over the Patriots and his second Super Bowl MVP award.

The Giants last won the Super Bowl in 2008, when they beat New England 17-14, ending the Patriots’ bid for a perfect season. New York’s other Super Bowls wins came in 1991 and 1987.

“I’m excited to win a championship. I’m excited for my teammates. There are a number of guys [on the Giants], this is their first one. I’m excited for coach [Tom] Coughlin, all of the coaches and the Giants organization,” Manning said afterward.

“This isn’t about one person. This is about a team coming together, getting this win. I’m just proud of our guys, proud of the team and how we fought all year.

a“[We] never got discouraged, kept faith and confidence and just fought to the very end.”

As good as the Giants’ quarterback played, and he played very well, the victory wasn’t assured until a late fourth-quarter drive that culminated in a 7-yard touchdown run by Ahmad Bradshaw with 51 seconds remaining in the game.

New York’s game-winning drive was spectacular in its own right. Trailing 17-15 with 3:46 to go, the Giants went 88 yards in eight plays as Manning connected on five of six passes for 74 yards. With the drive starting at the Giants’ own 12-yard line, the play of the game came on a daring first-down pass from Manning to wide receiver Mario Manningham down the left sideline.

It was a perfectly thrown pass into double coverage [by safeties Patrick Chung and Sterling Moore] and a heck of a catch by Manningham, who came down with the ball at midfield. More importantly, he was able to get both feet down before being shoved out of bounds. New England coach Bill Belichick challenged the play, but the replay review clearly showed that the pass was completed.

“He had both feet down. Good throw, good catch man,” Chung said later.

Manning concurred.

“They were in cover-2 [defensive coverage]. They had us covered pretty well to the right. I looked that way. I saw that I had the safety cheated in a little bit and threw it down the sideline,” he explained. “Great catch, 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 in the middle of the field. It was a big, big big-time play right there.”

After an incompletion, Manning hit on four straight passes and Bradshaw had two carries that accounted for 16 yards, including his touchdown run. New York went for a 2-point conversion but the play fell short, setting up a hectic final possession by New England.

The Patriots moved the football from their own 20-yard line to the 49, but Tom Brady’s desperation heave into the end zone that was intended for tight end Aaron Hernandez fell short. Several New York defenders, including strong safety Kenny Phillips, got their hands up to shield Hernandez from the ball.

Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks proved to be Manning’s favorite target all night, catching a game-high 10 passes for 109 yards. Manningham added five receptions for 73 yards. Placekicker Lawrence Tynes hit on third quarter field goals from 38 and 33 yards out to keep the Giants within striking distance.

New York’s defense, meanwhile, wasn’t as dominant as it had been the last time the two franchises met in a Super Bowl game, coming up with five sacks in that game four years ago. But the Giants came up with the big stops when they needed them the most, especially late in the fourth quarter.

This time, though, Brady was only sacked twice as he completed 27 of 41 passes — including 12 in a row at one point over the second and third quarters — for 276 yards and two TDs. But he also had a pass intercepted and was penalized early in the game when he was flagged for intentional grounding as he attempted a pass out of the end zone.

“I’d like to give the Giants a lot of credit,” the Patriots quarterback said after the game. “They certainly made the plays when they needed to. That is a very good football team. They put a lot of pressure on us. We just came up a little bit short.

“I think we had a couple of missed opportunities out there. Every guy in the locker room wishes he could have done a little bit more and maybe the outcome would have been a little bit different. We fought to the end.”

Hernandez caught eight passes for 67 yards, getting most of the looks due to Rob Gronkowski’s gimpy ankle. Wide receiver Wes Welker, meanwhile, added seven receptions for 60 yards.

After jumping out to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to Brady’s safety and a 2-yard scoring pass from Manning — who set a Super Bowl record by completing his first nine pass attempts of the game — to wide receiver Victor Cruz, the Giants trailed 10-9 at halftime.

Prior to the TD catch, it appeared as if New England had forced a fumble deep in their own territory when Cruz coughed up the ball after being tackled by safety Sterling Moore. The Patriots, however, were flagged for having 12 men on the field and the Giants were awarded a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line.

Stephen Gostkowski’s 29-yard field goal early in the second quarter narrowed the margin to 9-3. And with eight seconds remaining in the first half, Brady found running back Danny Woodhead alone in the front of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass.

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