Rating the best, worst from XLVI
From stuttering starts to a fantastic finish, this one had a little bit of everything
INDIANAPOLIS -- How strange was this one?
Well, with less than a minute left in Super Bowl XLVI and New York trailing, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw ran to daylight, saw the end zone looming and tried to stop short. He fell into the end zone for a 21-17 lead and that meant Tom Brady and his Patriots would have 57 seconds to try to win the game.
It almost happened. Brady's Hail Mary fell to the ground in the end zone as time expired, and confetti fluttered to the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
And so, there will be no revenge for the Patriots. The Giants were 21-17 winners in this rematch of Super Bowl XLII.
Our (still breathless) best and worst from one Super Sunday:
Best argument for elite consideration: Eli Manning has now won three of his four games opposite Brady. The Giants quarterback completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Can you say MVP? Can you say Canton?
Best play: Pinned at his own 12-yard line, Manning fired one down the sideline to a streaking Mario Manningham, who reeled it in for a 38-yard gain. His feet were barely inbounds, but the play was upheld by replay. It was the longest play of the night and, with 3:39 left, it allowed the Giants (who were down to only one timeout) some breathing room on their game-winning march.
Best decision: Patriots coach Bill Belichick instructed his defense to let Bradshaw score with 57 seconds remaining. That left Brady with a reasonable chance -- for him -- to win the game with some late magic.
Worst drop: Brady, operating from the Giants' 44-yard-line with a 17-15 lead with just over four minutes left, had receiver Wes Welker for a big gain. The ball was delivered just a tad behind a wide-open Welker, but it hit both his hands. It might well have been the turning point of the game.
Best production value: Madonna's lavish halftime show opened with a Roman theme (perhaps a tribute to the Super Bowl's numerals?) introducing the song "Vogue." It ended, mercifully, with a gospel choir, and the singer disappearing in a cloud of smoke. That was just about right. Smoke and mirrors, but very little soul. Next year's suggestion: The Black Keys.
Best disappearing act: Peyton Manning, in a landslide. The biggest story outside the game all week here, even with NBC's cameras staking him out, Manning was conspicuously absent Sunday. He was believed to be lurking in a luxury suite. Not to worry, though. He'll be the biggest story of the offseason soon enough.
Best reappearing act: Ten seconds into the second half, the Patriots' Chad Ochocinco -- the wide receiver whose entire season had been a disappearing act -- caught a 21-yard pass from Brady. That catch was his first of the postseason.
Best secret weapon: Giants punter Steve Weatherford, this envelope is for you. Knocking three balls inside the 20 would be impressive enough, but Weatherford dropped three balls inside the 10. His kick of 36 yards to the New England 6 set up the game-opening safety. Late in the second quarter, he dropped a 51-yard punt out of bounds at the Patriots' 4-yard line. In the fourth, he pinned the Patriots at their own 8. In a tight game of field position, Weatherford was huge.
Worst Super Bowl start ever by the Patriots: New England's first offensive play turned into a safety when Brady heaved the ball downfield into a wide-open space. Because he was in the end zone and under pressure, Brady was called for intentional grounding and, by rule, a safety. So just 6 minutes, 8 seconds into the game, the Giants had a 2-0 lead -- and, more importantly, a huge edge in early momentum.
Best Super Bowl start by the Giants: The Giants took a 9-0 lead after the ensuing punt when Manning hit Victor Cruz with a 2-yard touchdown pass. With a little more than three minutes left in the first quarter, the Giants had amassed 108 yards -- to zero for the Patriots. Manning opened the day by completing his first nine passes, a Super Bowl record to start a game.
Worst mental error: Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore stripped Cruz of the ball and linebacker Brandon Spikes recovered on New England's 11-yard line. However, the Patriots, who were late in substituting their heavy package, were called for 12 men on the field. The Giants scored a touchdown two plays later. Very un-Belichick-like.
Best stabilizing drive: Brady took the Patriots 96 yards -- tying the record for the longest touchdown drive in Super Bowl history -- to claim a 10-9 lead just before halftime. New England actually went 98 yards after taking a penalty. The 14-play, 3-minute, 55-second march ended with a 4-yard TD pass to Danny Woodhead that stopped the first-half bleeding.
Greg Garber covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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