Tuesday, February 5, 2013

February 5, 2012: Manning to Manningham

INDIANAPOLIS - It didn't quite have the shock of The Helmet Catch. Nothing really could. How can you beat a player pinning a miracle catch against his helmet, then holding on to it as a defender is desperately clawing at it? You can't. But you can come close. And when Eli Manning hit Mario Manningham down the sideline during Super Bowl XLVI, dropping the ball perfectly between two defenders who seemed to have position on Manningham, you could almost hear Patriot fans saying "it happened again?"

What happened was another Giants-Patriots Super Bowl, another fourth-quarter lead for the Patriots in such a Super Bowl, and another late-fourth quarter comeback for the Giants. After the Giants ended the Patriots perfect season in Super Bowl XLII, they met again on February 5, 2012, and played another heart-pounding game.

The Patriots took a 17-9 lead into halftime of the rematch, but the game really picked up late in the fourth quarter, after the Giants had cut that lead to 17-15. At the 4:05 mark, Tom Brady found Wes Welker for what should have been a first down on a 2nd-and-11 play, but Welker dropped the ball. Instead of facing the prospects of taking their final time out, the Giants instead got the clock stopped and, after getting another incomplete pass on the next play, forced a punt.

Taking over at their own 12 with 3:48 left, Manning found his man. As Manningham drifted down the sideline, Manning threw a perfect pass between two defenders. Manningham caught the ball with his arms outstretched, tiptoed in bounds, and held on. It was a stunning catch, a perfectly executed play all around. And it left the Patriots stunned. They challenged the play, losing one of their time outs when it was upheld, then tried to hold on.

But they didn't hold on. Instead, the Giants eventually drove to get to first and goal at the 7. After a first-down run for one yard, the Patriots used their second time out, and they were faced with a dilemma. If they still had two remaining time outs, they could try to stop the Giants, using both their time outs to stop the clock, and hopefully force a field goal with enough time left to respond. Instead, they had used a time out on the challenge, meaning the one they had left wasn't enough to stop the Giants from draining nearly all of the clock. So they did what they had to do: They let the Giants score.

That decision had a precedence in Super Bowl history, but the Giants were still caught off guard. When Ahmad Bradshaw unexpectedly saw a wide-open path to the end zone, he seemed to forget what to do. Remembering at the last moment that he was supposed to let the clock run down, Bradshaw stopped running at the 2-yard line, but his momentum carried him backwards into the end zone for what had to be the first accidental touchdown in Super Bowl history.

So the Giants might not have wanted to score on that play, but it's not like a touchdown was bad. Trailing 21-17, the Patriots now had to drive the length of the field for a touchdown in less than a minute and with only one time out. They only made it as far as midfield before being forced to try a final-play Hail Mary, one that missed connecting by less than a yard.

For the second time in four years, the Giants had upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. This time, instead of a Helmet Catch, the catalyst was Manning to Manningham, a perfect pass and catch on the sideline.

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