There are no more questions about whether Eli is elite. But has the second half of Brady's career become tragic?
For three quarters of the season, they were less than stellar and shrunk in the limelight. However, in the pivotal moments they played like Giants. With jobs, the season and games on the line the 2012 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants mustered a supernatural ability to overcome the odds.
A lot has changed since Super Bowl XLII. Jean-Pierre Paul has replaced Michael Strahan as the Giants premiere pass rusher. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz have filled the gaping holes at receiver that were left behind by Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. Brandon Jacobs is no longer the leader of a powerful ground game. Besides Tom Coughlin, the one constant in the Giants equation has been the clutch ability of one Elisha Nelson Manning aka Eli-te Manning, formerly known as Peyton’s "little brother".
Of all of the game-winning drives in Super Bowl history, this one felt the most inevitable. We’d seen it before. Not only had he led seven game-winning drives in the regular season, including one against New England but he’d also thrown an NFL-record 15 fourth quarter touchdown passes and memories from 2008 still linger in our memories.
This time, instead of a dropped interception by Asante Samuels, the hands of a more reliable Patriot came up short. On second and long, with the Patriots driving to extend their 17-15 lead, Wes Walker, the league’s receptions leader dropped a high arching pass from Brady. As he crumpled on the ground in disbelief, you just got the sense that Eli was destined to beat Brady on this night. It was only second down but even the Patriots defense could feel the momentum shifting.
The circumstances were eerily similar to a night four years ago. In 2008, Eli went 84 yards in 2:04. This time, Eli and the Giants covered 88 yards in 2:58 to become the first 9-7 Super Bowl champ in NFL history. Eli’s escape and David Tyree’s helmet catch may never be repeated in the Super Bowl. Fortunately, Eli was able to match it with a perfectly placed pass into the outstretched arms of the forgotten receiver, Mario Manningham. Manningham also displayed superhuman awareness by imitating Madonna’s half-time tightrope dancing performer and kept his tiptoes in bounds while pulling in the biggest catch of his NFL career. After "the catch", Manningham acknowledged to the Boston Herald how close he was to making the catch out of bounds.
"I knew where I was on the sideline. I knew I didn’t have much room," Manningham said. "Good thing I wear 11 because if I wore 111⁄2 I don’t think I would’ve been in."
As confusing as this may seem, Tom Brady has established himself as the second most clutch quarterback in NFL history behind Joe Montana yet he can’t seem to beat the erratic, enigmatic Eli Manning. As the bumblin’, stumblin’ Chris Berman would say, "Nobody circles the wagon" like Tom Brady. Through the first six seasons of his career, he couldn’t be beat in big games and won three Super Bowls in five seasons. The first half of his career was Montana-like. The second half has been a Jim Kelly-like tragedy.
In the 2007 AFC Championship Game, Peyton Manning led the Colts back on a game-winning drive in the final minute. In Super Bowl XLII, Eli ruined Brady’s perfect season in heartbreaking fashion and in 2008, a hit from Bernard Pollard in Week one ended his season. Until last month, the Patriots had not won a playoff game in four years. Ironically, it was Pollard that put Welker on IR before the playoffs in 2009 and it was he that rolled over Rob Gronkowski’s ankle in the AFC Championship Game.
Since their last Super Bowl, win the Patriots have abandoned their conservative offense for a vertical passing attack and struggled rebuilding their once dominating defense. Brady threw one of the worst interceptions of his career. Meanwhile, the Giants have defeated Brady in consecutive Super Bowls by relying on a blitz-heavy defense that has held the Pats to 31 points in two meetings.
The question now becomes what does the future hold for Eli and Coughlin’s Giants? Unlike their XLII versions, the XLVI Giants are younger and primed for multiple runs at another ring. Before all is said and done, Coughlin and Eli may have a handful of rings. Or they could falter in the brutal NFC East and miss the playoffs next season. That’s the thing about these Giants, you never know what will happen next.