Commentary

New player, same ol' 85 magic for Giants

Like David Tyree before him, Jake Ballard torments Patriots on a game-winning drive

Updated: November 7, 2011, 1:47 AM ET
By Jane McManus | ESPNNewYork.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Jake Ballard didn't pick No. 85 for any particular reason.

Sure, he knew that David Tyree wore it in 2007, stunning the New England Patriots with one crazy catch up the middle of the field on the New York Giants' game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLII. But Ballard pretty much just wanted to get away from the No. 48 that he was stuck with last year.

But after Ballard made an eerily similar catch in the middle of the field, keeping the final drive alive for the Giants in a 24-20 comeback win over the Patriots, No. 85 seems to fit in more ways than one.

[+] EnlargeJake Ballard
David Butler II/US PresswireJake Ballard's catch on the Giants' final drive ...

"It's starting to grow on me now," Ballard said.

Ballard also had the decisive touchdown catch with 15 seconds to play. Watching the scene unfold, running back Brandon Jacobs said it felt familiar from the start.

"I knew we were going to win the game," Jacobs said. "It kind of brought me back to the Super Bowl, when we make a catch like that, in the middle of the field, an outstanding catch, going down to score, to go up, to win -- we got it."

After watching Tom Brady march down and send Ron Gronkowski a 14-yard touchdown pass for the first Patriots lead of the game, Eli Manning and the Giants' offense took the field with 1:36 left in the game. On third-and-10 from the Giants' own 39 yard line, Manning sent a 28-yarder out of the shotgun to Ballard up the middle.

"They are playing man underneath and two safeties high, and we hadn't really thrown anything to him down the middle," Manning said. "And so he got even with the guy -- he is just a big target. I tried to put it in a spot where he could make the catch and put it up high and get it into his hands.

"The defender never turned his head back on that, so he didn't have a chance to turn and make a play. The safety can come and hit it out, but Ballard is a big sucker and made a big catch."

[+] EnlargeDavid Tyree
John David Mercer/US Presswire.... was reminiscent of David Tyree's XLII miracle.

Next play, Manning ran the ball for another 12 yards and then, just a yard outside the red zone, Manning looked for Mario Manningham near the end zone and sent him the ball. Patriots safety Sergio Brown was called for pass interference, and with that the Giants had a first down on the 1-yard line.

The third try was a charm; Ballard got open and the Giants had the win.

"It was almost surreal," Ballard said. "I caught it I knew I had a touchdown but I guess I didn't realize it until I was celebrating with my teammates."

Ballard said Manning came up and told him, "Great catch."

Later, the locker room was raucous, with Jacobs -- who has spent weeks wondering about his place in the offense -- feeling relaxed and happy enough to pick up head coach Tom Coughlin and hold him high on his shoulders in the cramped visiting locker room.

"It was pretty crazy. Everybody was hooting and hollering and celebrating," Ballard said. "Coach Coughlin had a big smile on his face, so it was priceless."

Jane McManus has covered New York sports since 1998 and began covering football just before Brett Favre's stint with the Jets. Her work has appeared in Newsday, USA Today, The Journal News and The New York Times. Follow Jane on Twitter.

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