Super Bowl XXXVIII game report

One of my all-time favorite assignments.

Headline: Giants cap improbable run with Super Bowl win

By Ed Odeven/The Japan Times

GLENDALE, Ariz.(Feb. 5, 2008) — There’s no perfect Super Bowl champion in 2008. Instead, there’s a champion that took a page out of the previously unbeaten New England Patriots’ book of achievements.

The New York Giants authored the final chapter to their improbable Super Bowl XLII title this way:

They did it the Patriots’ way.

The Giants staged a late-game comeback, winning it on Plaxico Burress’ 13-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning with 35 seconds remaining on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

New York’s 17-14 victory is precisely the same three-point margin that gave New England three championships in four seasons Super Bowl XXXVI (20-17 over the St. Louis Rams), Super Bowl XXXVIII (32-29, over the Carolina Panthers) and Super Bowl XXXIX (24-21 over the Philadelphia Eagles). And in each of those three Tom Brady-led title games, the Patriots won the championship in dramatic fashion in the fourth quarter.

Now it was New York’s turn.

The Giants’ 11th straight road win elevated them to new heights as they became the only team to hand Bill Belichick’s mighty Patriots a defeat this season.

“That was a record in the National Football League, to win 11 straight road games,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

“But more than that, it’s the way in which we went about our work. The road signified for us, the coming together of team… So we rode that emotion all the way through.”

Belichick was asked if this was the most disappointing loss of his career.

“I don’t rank them. It’s disappointing,” he blurted out.

The game featured only one touchdown through three quarters Laurence Maroney’s 1-yard TD plunge in the second quarter. That score put the Patriots ahead 7-3 with 14:57 to play before intermission.

New York had taken a 3-0 lead on Lawrence Tynes’ 32-yard field goal to cap a 16-play, game-opening drive, in which Manning demonstrated he was not intimidated by the championship-tested New England defense.

How’s this for baptism under fire? Manning, the game MVP, completed three third-down passes to keep the drive alive.

In the fourth quarter, the resilient Giants retook the lead.

With 14:52 to play, Manning and Co. took over at their own 20-yard line. He opened the drive with a 35-yard pass play to tight end Kevin Boss. Six plays later, Manning hit receiver David Tyree with a picture-perfect pass, a 5-yard bullet over the middle.

It was Tyree’s first touchdown of the season.

“He just made the catch of his life,” Fox TV play-by-play man Joe Buck said seconds later.

The teams traded punts on the next two drives.

Then Brady went back to work, doing what he does best. He engineered another vintage fourth-quarter comeback, driving the Patriots 80 yards in 12 plays. He hooked up with Wes Welker (11 catches, 103 yards) for receptions of five, 13 and 10 yards during the possession.

In fitting fashion, New England retook the lead, 14-10, on Brady’s 6-yard TD strike to Randy Moss with 2:42 left in the game. Moss beat cornerback Corey Webster on a well-placed throw to the right corner of the end zone.

“It was just a simple fade,” Moss said. “It was a crucial situation in the game. It was late in the game and I really thought that play really gave us the momentum, to take us up.”

It did, but it was a short-lived momentum.

The Giants resumed their quest for a title with 2:42 to play in the game and the ball at their own 17.

Operating out of the shotgun, Manning, who was 19-for-34 for 255 yards and one interception, quickly moved the chains, getting an 11-yard pickup on a pass to Amani Toomer.

Facing third-and-10 after the 2-minute warning, the Manning-Toomer connection produced another long gain: nine yards. On fourth-and-1 from the 37, Brandon Jacobs, who runs like a tenacious bull, barreled his way forward for a 2-yard pickup.

On third-and-5 at the Giants 44 with 1:15 remaining, Manning darted out of the pocket to avoid a sack, a superb, jaw-dropping job of sidestepping away from a sure loss.

In doing so, he gave himself time to connect with Tyree for a 32-yard pass over the middle.

“The whole play by Eli to avoid that sack was the play of the year, outstanding, amazing,” Boss declared.

But the proud Patriots, seeking their first title in three years, had some fight left in them.

Linebacker Adalius Thomas dropped Manning for a 1-yard loss on the next play. And Manning faced tight pass defense on the next down and threw an incompletion, setting up third-and-11 at the 25 with 45 ticks on the clock.

Manning was ready for the challenge.

He delivered an 11-yard pass to rookie Steve Smith to keep this drama-drenched fourth quarter beating to the same pulsating rhythm.

Manning cemented his legacy in the NFL annals on the next play.

Under all-out duress he made the game-winning pass to Burress, a great lob that the outspoken receiver hauled in with 35 seconds to go.

Brady, who was harassed all night by the relentless Giants defensive front seven, ran out of magic.

He threw an incomplete pass. Jay Alford sacked him. Then he tossed a pair of long, air-it-out passes to the streaking Moss, who faced double- and triple-coverage.

Moments later, the Giants celebrated the franchise’s third Super Bowl title, a direct result of holding the Patriots’ running game to 45 total yards.

“Every team is beatable, you never know,” Coughlin said. “The right moment, the right time, every team is beatable. That’s why it’s so difficult and you have to guard against so many different things, emotions, etc.”

“There’s no taking anything away from them now,” he added, praising his players for a super finish to their season. Looking back at the way fourth-year pro Manning played on the grand stage, Coughlin said: “He played super. He did the things in the second half (and) fourth quarter that you have to do to win the Super Bowl. He brought us down the field, he got the ball in the end zone twice, you’d have to throw the script away.

“We had three timeouts, we’re sitting there in the green zone with no timeouts. So you know you’ve got to make a play and you’ve got to make a play to the end zone. So he played very, very well and very cool, very calm.”

The Patriots had a different perspective afterward.

“It’s a game we couldn’t finish,” Brady lamented. “It’s tough to take. … We had our chances. We knew we were one step away.”

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