Inside the Xs and Os: Giants best Bill

February, 6, 2012
2/06/12
4:37
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Giants won their fourth Super Bowl because of patience, fourth-quarter mettle and, yes, some luck. They caught some huge breaks in their 21-17 win over the Patriots. They also got some help from Bill Belichick, who made a couple of questionable tactical decisions.

Let's break down the Xs and Os, with help from ESPN Stats & Information:

PATIENCE: Belichick was determined not to get beat by the quick strike, so he played Cover-2 most of the game. Instead of forcing the ball into the two-deep zone, which some quarterbacks might do, Eli Manning kept throwing underneath. Eleven of his 30 completions went to tight ends and running backs.

Manning was razor sharp. In fact, he completed 28 of 32 passes on throws under 15 yards. That's not easy to do, especially in the crucible of a championship game. Some quarterbacks (not mentioning any names) can't go 28-for-32 in a seven-on-seven drill.

Also, kudos to offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for his patience. With the Patriots in Cover-2 for much of the game, the Giants faced seven-man fronts, so Gilbride stayed with the run. Result: The Giants' time of possession was 37:05, compared to 22:55 for the Patriots.

ONE SHOT: Manning waited almost 57 minutes to take his deep shot, and it paid off with one of the great pitches and catches in Super Bowl history -- the 38-yard strike to WR Mario Manningham. But here's the amazing thing about that play: Until that completion, Manning had gone 0-for-9 on passes of 31+ yards to Manningham all season.

They had no chemistry, in large part, because Manningham tends to get sloppy with his routes. He did it earlier in the game, showing no awareness on a similar route and botching what should've been a long completion. But when it matttered most, Manningham turned into Jerry Rice.

KILL BILL: For some reason, the Patriots got away from their no-huddle. Made no sense. In their first two post-season games, they ran 72 plays out of the no-huddle and tore up opponents, especially on the ground. On Sunday night, they used it for only 10 plays -- only three drives, two of which ended in TDs.

The no-huddle would've been a great weapon against the Giants. It would've caused fatigue and would've created matchup advantages for the Patriots, but Belichick made the ill-advised decision to bail on it.

Another Belichick faux pas: He changed his defensive game plan at halftime, going to a 4-3 base in the second half. Not many teams have the versatility to go from 3-4 to 4-3, but here's the deal: It didn't work. They allowed almost twice as many yards out of the 4-3 (6.8 and 3.6 per play) and more than doubled the rushing average (6.4 and 2.5). Belichick outsmarted himself; he should've gone back to the 3-4 to stayed with it.

TIGHT SITUATION: Because of injuries to TEs Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard, the Giants had to adjust their personnel packages. They went to a '20' grouping -- two RBs, 0 TEs, 3 WRs -- in the fourth quarter. Afterward, Gilbride said they hadn't practiced running plays out of the package in four years. Football is all about overcoming adversity and making changes on the fly, and the Giants did that.

Manning was deadly with his three-receiver package in the game, completing 19 or 26 passes for 205 yards, one TD and no interceptions.

LADY LUCK: They might not want to admit it, but the Giants benefitted from some fortunate bounces. RB Ahmad Bradshaw and WR Hakeem Nicks both had fumbles, but they were recovered RG Chris Snee and FB Henry Hynoski, the balls bouncing to them as if controlled by some sort of magnetic force.

There should've been a third fumble, and this one was recovered by the Patriots, but Victor Cruz's fumble was nullified because the Patriots were penalized for having 12 men on the field. It was one of the key plays in the game because, one play later, Cruz scored to make it 9-0.

SPEAKING OF LUCK ...: Manning's 2-yard TD pass to Cruz was one of the weirdest scores you'll ever see. He threw a quick slant to Cruz, who beat S James Ihedigbo out of the slot (can you say 'mismatch'?), but Manning never saw ILB Jerod Mayo.

Mayo read the play perfectly, clogging the passing lane, but he actually read it too well. He over-ran it, and Manning's bullet whizzed behind him. He never adjusted. Touchdown.

CRUNCH TIME: The Giants played their best in the fourth quarter, the Patriots played their worst. Ditto, the quarterbacks: Manning went 10-for-13, 118 yards; Brady 6-for-15, 64 yards. As I wrote last week, Brady's reputation as a clutch QB is overstated. The man is 6-6 in his last 12 post-season games.

In fairness, Brady was victimized by two fourth-quarter drops, as his famous, potty-mouthed wife told the world on video. WR Wes Welker has been one of the most prolific receivers in the game over the last few years, but he cracked under pressure, dropping a wide-open pass with four minutes to play. He picked the worst possible time for his first drop of the year on a pass of 10+ yards. If he had held on at the Giants' 20, it was game, set, match.

THE BRADY HUNCH: The Giants generated pressure on Brady on 30 percent of his dropbacks, actually a better ratio than Super Bowl XLII. For the most part, Brady handled it better than he did in 2008, but he still experienced some hiccups (see the first-quarter intentional grounding/safety).

The Giants packed their coverage into the middle of the field and did a nice job of limiting Brady's effectiveness between the numbers. Not having TE Rob Gronkowski at 100 percent clearly hurt the Patriots, as he played a season-low 73-percent of the snaps and was targeted only three times.

The Giants also took away the deep ball, holding Brady to 0-for-5 on passes of 20+ yards, but that wasn't particularly difficult. The Patriots are a dink-and-dunk passing team, the opposite of the Giants. The Giants stepped outside their comfort zone and adapted; the Patriots didn't.

And that's why they dropped yet another Super Bowl to the Giants.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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