The New York Giants are Super Bowl champions once again. And Sunday's thrilling victory over the New England Patriots was really a microcosm of their 2011-12 season. It was their previous 19 games all rolled into one. Quickly jumping out to a 9-0 lead? Wasn't that just like unexpectedly being 6-2 after their first eight games? The Patriots stormed back with 17 points? Four-game losing streak, anybody? Victor Cruz saved the season with his phenomenal 99-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the New York Jets, and it was a Giant receiver, Mario Manningham, who just may have saved the Super Bowl with an equally phenomenal play.
But wait, there's more. Tony Romo misses a wide-open Miles Austin, which, if he didn't overthrow the pass, could have ended the Giants' magical season. Meanwhile, Tom Brady can't connect with a wide-open Wes Welker in the Super Bowl, when a completion could have ended the Giants' chances for a comeback victory. Eli Manning was consistently great during the season, and he was just as consistently great during the title game. And throw one more fourth-quarter come-from-behind drive on the pile. Players dropped like flies before and during the year, but the Giants didn't miss a beat and just kept on ticking. Players (Travis Beckum, Jake Ballard) dropped like flies on Sunday, but the Giants again just kept rolling along. Off-the-scrapheap finds like Cruz, Ballard and Chase Blackburn made key contributions in the regular season, and there they were again on Sunday. Blackburn with a down-the-field interception? Who wrote that script? And Cruz got a chance to salsa one final time this season on Sunday. A Hail Mary comes into play yet again, and yet again the long pass went the Giants' way.
Down the stretch and in their first three games of the playoffs, the Giants were the more mentally and physically tough team, whichever opponent they lined up against. In the Super Bowl, though this may be more symbolic than something that actually affected the outcome, it is telling: While Giant running backs, fullbacks, receivers and tight ends were barrelling over Patriot defenders and fighting for every yard, Patriot receiver Deion Branch quickly fell to the ground afraid to be hit on one of his early-game receptions. Which team was more motivated? That may be the answer right there. "All in" became a team slogan as the season went on, and on Sunday everyone was all in, they all contributed, from Steve Weatherford to Hakeem Nicks to Henry Hynoski to Bear Pascoe to Jason Pierre-Paul to Michael Boley to Corey Webster to Chris Snee to Ahmad Bradshaw (was it really so bad that he fell into the end zone? -- you never know what can happen on a field-goal attempt) and on down the line. And since the very first practice, Tom Coughlin gave his team the theme of the season: "Finish." And they surely finished with a flourish, becoming Super Bowl Champions for the fourth time in franchise history.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Have the Knicks Found Their Savior? The New York Knicks have been desperately in need of a true point guard since this season began. They've been waiting for Baron Davis. They've tried Toney Douglas. They've tried Iman Shumpert. They've tried Mike Bibby. They've used Carmelo Anthony as a surrogate point guard. They were one step away from having Walt Frazier take off his headset and suit up once again. But the answer may have been sitting at the end of their bench all along (well, since December 27, when he was picked up off the waiver wire). It only took one game for fans to fall in love with Jeremy Lin, the point guard they've been missing who comes from the un-NBA-like breeding ground of Harvard. After the Knicks fell apart at the end of Friday's loss to the Boston Celtics, with no one to direct them, Lin was a sight for sore eyes when he took over the game on Saturday night and almost singlehandedly defeated the New Jersey Nets, with career highs in pretty much every category. And with the win, a new folk hero was born, along with the phrases "Linsanity" and "The Harvard Hurricane." On Monday, with no Amar'e Stoudemire, who is out until Monday because of the tragic death of his brother, and Anthony straining his groin in the first few minutes of the game, Lin did it all again, leading the Knicks to a 99-88 victory over the Utah Jazz, running the fast break like a veteran, spreading the ball around and feeding Tyson Chandler one alley-oop after another. And on Wednesday? Yup, he did it one more time, in the 107-93 victory over the Wizards. Lin may have saved Mike D'Antoni's job, but why did it take so long to give him a shot? But more importantly, what's going to happen when Stoudemire and Anthony come back?
A Great Point Guard Isn't Enough in NJ: Even though the Nets feature one of the best point guards in the NBA, they were point-guarded to death this week by their opponents. On Friday night, it was Ricky Rubio who beat the Nets with his offense and defense, as New Jersey fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves, 108-105. On Saturday, it was Lin, whose out-of-nowhere breakout game was the main cause of demise for the Nets, in their 99-92 loss at the Garden (where the crowd is still booing poor Kris Humphries). Monday looked to be a battle between two of the best -- Deron Williams and Derrick Rose -- but Rose had to leave the game with back spasms after only playing 10 minutes, but the Chicago Bulls embarrassed the Nets, nonetheless, with a 108-87 blowout win. Williams was the best point guard on the floor on Wednesday, but his performance wasn't quite enough, as the Nets lost their fourth in a row, falling to the Detroit Pistons, 99-92. After a brief 4-2 spurt toward the end of January, the Nets' injuries have begun to catch up with them (Keith Bogans joins the list with a broken ankle), as the undermanned and undersized team has lost six of their last seven -- and not even their throwback ABA jerseys could bring them any luck this week.
Rematches, Rivalries & Reunions: The New York Rangers squared off with the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, in a rematch of the Winter Classic and as a warmup for the Super Bowl. And it was a vintage Rangers-Flyers game, with bags o' knuckles flying (four fights, and in a tribute to Dave Schultz, Tom Sestito pulled Brandon Prust's hair while engaging in fisticuffs with the Ranger mighty might). The Blueshirts once again outhit Philadelphia (29-24), out-shot-blocked them (23-10) and had the upper hand in the nets, winning 5-2, with the reunited Marian Gaborik/Derek Stepan/Artem Anisimov line recording seven points. Tuesday's game with the New Jersey Devils began with some excitement, with two separate fights occurring at the drop of the puck. But it evolved into a sleepy affair, until the third period, when the Rangers' barrage of shots was stopped by a vintage-looking Martin Brodeur, with a little help at the end from the refs, who could just as easily have allowed the Anisimov goal as not. Gaborik was clearly attempting to stop before he was pushed into Brodeur by Anton Volchenkov, which was easy to see in slow-motion replay but not so easy to discern in real-time. The real reason the Rangers came up short, though, was their inability to score on the power play. That's about the only chink in the Rangers' armor, but it's a big chink. On Thursday, John Tortorella and Brad Richards had a reunion with their old team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, winning in a shootout, 4-3. The good? They showed resilience by coming back to tie the game with a third-period goal, they finally scored on the power play and Richards put the puck in the net (for the game-winner). The bad: Ruslan Fedotenko took a blow to the head by Dominic Moore, which means the Rangers winger will be out for a while. Richards said it all: "I'm pretty sure that's what we're not trying to do to each other. It's us doing it to each other."
They (Almost) Can't Lose: Last week, the Devils took advantage of some fortuitous bounces of the puck, and for much of this week it was the officials who were in cahoots with New Jersey, as they continue their red-hot play. On Saturday, with a 1-0 lead over the Flyers, Dainius Zubrus clearly tripped up Claude Giroux while killing a penalty, but instead of the whistle being blown, the puck was sent up to Mr. Shorthanded Goal himself, Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored and changed the momentum of the game. New Jersey poured it on, going ahead 6-0, but their third-period issues cropped up again, letting in four unanswered goals, but they held on to win, 6-4. Kovalchuk recorded a Gordie Howe Hat Trick in the contest, and came to the rescue of Zach Parise after the usual questionable Flyer sportsmanship, KO'ing Brayden Schenn. There were more Kovalchuk heroics and David Clarkson reached the 20 goal mark for the first time in his career in Sunday's 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Clarkson scored again and Brodeur recorded a shutout in the 1-0 win over the Rangers. And the refs were on their side again in the late disallowed goal, which could have gone either way. But what goes around comes around came around on Thursday, when, with a 3-2 lead in the third period over the St. Louis Blues, the Devils lost the lead when Patrik Berglund tied the game on a goal that should have been disallowed due to a high stick. They then uncharacteristically lost in a shootout. But New Jersey did earn a point, which gives them 11 points in their last six games.
The Razor's Edge: The New York Islanders were living on the edge this week. On Friday, they defeated the Ottawa Senators, 2-1, in overtime, with Mark Eaton being the hero, as he netted the winning goal, which was his first since Nov. 9, 2009, and he did it in his 600th NHL game to boot. Denis Potvin and Billy Smith were in the building, so how could the Islanders lose with karma like that? On Saturday, they lost by a sliver, falling to the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout, 4-3. On Tuesday, it was their turn to come out on top in a shootout, as they were the third local team to defeat the Flyers this week, winning 1-0, thanks to Evgeni Nabokov's brilliance in the nets. The veteran goaltender made 45 saves, and then two more in the shootout, without letting one puck slip by him. But they were doomed by a slow start on Thursday, losing to the Montreal Canadiens, 4-2, when their furious comeback attempt just wasn't enough.
Canton (and Canada) Bound: The greatest running back in New York Jets history, Curtis Martin, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played 11 seasons (eight with Gang Green) and gained over 1,000 yards in the first 10. He rushed for 14,101 yards, led the league in rushing in 2004, made five Pro Bowls, was a First-Team All-Pro once and was the Offensive Rookie of the Year. It couldn't have happened to a nicer, classier guy. But no Bill Parcells? That's a travesty of justice. This doesn't begin to make up for that inequity, but former New York Mets outfielder and pinch-hitter extraordinaire Rusty Staub was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame this week. Le Grand Orange was, of course, one of the original Montreal Expos.
Signed, Sent Packing or Heading Off to All-Star Weekend: The Rangers made a minor transaction last weekend, sending Erik Christensen and a conditional 2013 seventh-round draft pick to the Minnesota Wild for 24-year-old forward Casey Wellman, who will play for the Connecticut Whale. The move opened up a roster spot for the returning Steve Eminger. The Islanders signed Frans Nielsen to a four-year $11 million contract. The New York Jets kept Santonio Holmes on their roster this week, which means the receiver will get $15.25 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons. The New York Yankees inked Bill Hall and Russell Branyon to minor-league deals. And Deron Williams was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team (no such luck for Chandler and Stoudemire), and MarShon Brooks was chosen to compete in the All-Star Rookie-Sophomore Game, while Shumpert was snubbed.
Final Question: When did Brian Cashman turn into Steve Phillips?
And that's the New York week that was.