Both of these games had an incredible, against the odds, gravity defying reception in the final drive of regulation.
In Super Bowl 42, there was the helmet catch. On 3rd-and-5, with just over a minute remaining, Eli Manning was smothered by Patriots defensive lineman. Instead of taking a sure sack, however, Manning slipped away, and gunned a bullet down the center of the field (never a good idea, usually) to reserve wide receiver David Tyree, who made the greatest play in NFL history, catching the ball with safety Rodney Harrison draped all over him, and pinning it to his helmet as he fell to the ground, before maintaining possession as he slammed to the floor.
The catch defied belief. Manning’s elusiveness, his incredibly gutsy throw, and Tyree’s catch — the degree of difficulty, the fact that he pinned it against his helmet, the fact that Harrison was literally on top of him, the fact that it was a no name receiver who made the catch — it still gives me chills watching it to this day.
However, Julian Edelman‘s catch in Super Bowl 51 was Tyree-esque — in fact, many believed that this catch was finally a reciprocation by the football gods, evening the status quo for the Patriots after the Helmet Catch nine years earlier. Brady threw the ball over the middle, looking for Edelman, who was surrounded by three Falcons defenders.
Robert Alford, who previously had a pick six in the game, tipped the ball up when all four players dived for it. The ball deflected off a shoe, and then bounced off Edelman’s hands before he snatched it. When Edelman made the catch, the ball was mere centimeters away from touching the turf and being ruled incomplete.
While Edelman’s catch was amazing, there are three reasons why it is not as good as Tyree’s. First, his catch required a great deal of luck — Alford’s tip could have gone anywhere, and if the ball doesn’t bounce up off a shoe, Edelman likely doesn’t make the catch.
Tyree’s catch, however, required a ton of skill, concentration, and will– he was incredibly pragmatic by pinning the ball to his helmet, and the concentration and sheer determination that Tyree required to keep the ball from falling was remarkable.
The second factor is the quarterback. Brady was not at all under pressure when he threw the pass. Meanwhile, Manning was nearly sacked by three players, before evading them and slinging it downfield. The degree of difficulty on the throwing side was just as high as the catch.
Third, was circumstance. The Giants were facing a 3rd-and-5, and the Patriots had a 1st-and-10. If Eli gets sacked, it’s 4th-and-long. If the pass is incomplete, it’s still 4th-and-5. If Edelman doesn’t make the catch, it’s 2nd-and-10. The Patriots had already converted on second and third and long during that drive.
Throw in that the Tyree catch happened on the game-winning drive, and the Edelman catch happened on the game-tying drive, and we have another clear winner here.