Each game had comeback drives that resulted in victory. Eli Manning’s 12 play, 83-yard drive featured several massive plays that led to the resulting touchdown. On 3rd-and-10, Manning found a diving Amani Toomer to give the Giants a 4th-and-1. On the next play, Brandon Jacobs converted, barely.
Then, there was the previously discussed helmet catch. Three plays later, Manning hit Steve Smith on the sideline on 3rd-and-11, a massively under looked play, to set the Giants up inside the 15 with 39 seconds left, where Eli found Plaxico Burress for the game-winning touchdown.
Eli’s drive was tremendous, but Tom Brady needed to make five of those drives to win the Super Bowl.
Down 28-3, Brady led the Pats on five straight scoring drives (not including the end of regulation kneel down). He hit James White to make it 28-9. He marched the Pats to a field goal to make it 28-12. With a short field following a Dont’a Hightower forced fumble, he found Amendola to make it 28-20. To end regulation, he marched them nearly 90 yards, including the Edelman catch, before James White punched it in from one-yard out. And in overtime, he took the Pats 75 yards in nine plays, before White’s walk-off touchdown.
Brady’s last three drives were individually as impressive as Eli’s one drive, and therefore, Super Bowl 51 takes the cake.
Edge: Super Bowl 51
What about the Falcons?
One argument that can be made regarding the Super Bowls and the difference between them is the collapse of the Falcons. The Giants played an incredibly strong Patriots team and beat them. They pressured Brady all night, they didn’t allow any long touchdowns to Randy Moss, and they held a record-breaking offense to just 14 points over four quarters. Essentially, they beat the Patriots.
As good as the Patriots were in the fourth quarter, they had no business being in that game. In particular two plays stand out that spelled doom for the Falcons — inexplicable coaching decisions that invited the Patriots back into the game.
First, on 3rd-and-1, with the score at 28-12, the Falcons did not run the ball (with Devonta Freeman, who was having a terrific game). Instead, they dropped back to pass, Freeman missed his block on Hightower, and Matt Ryan fumbled. Minutes later, it was 28-20.
However, the worst play call of all happened with four minutes left in regulation. Up 28-20, Ryan found Julio Jones for one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history. It looked like a Tyree-Mario Manningham–Jermaine Kearse look-alike.
More importantly, it put the Falcons in field goal range, meaning they had to run a few plays (and force the Patriots to call timeouts) and then kick a field goal that would give them an 11 point lead, and surely, surely put the game out of reach.
However, on 2nd and long, Matt Ryan was sacked for a loss of ten, which knocked them out of field goal range. The next play, Jake Matthews was called for holding, forcing the Falcons back a further 10 yards, forcing them to punt the ball to Brady down 8 with 3 minutes left, 2 timeouts, and the two-minute warning.
The only plays that the Patriots can cite in Super Bowl 42 as one that they should have made to beat the Giants are Asante Samuel‘s dropped pick on the last drive, and not sacking Manning before the helmet catch. Neither of those were glaring coaching mistakes, however, and neither overshadowed how terrific the Giants were.
The headline question in all sports discussion the morning after the game asked: Did the Patriots beat the Falcons, or did the Falcons beat themselves? In Super Bowl 42, there was no such question; rather, the statement that the Giants beat the Patriots.