Sometimes, it really is that simple.
The Giants won.
The Patriots lost.
In one of the hardest hitting, most competitive Super Bowls ever, two teams traded haymakers until the clock ran out on one of them. Super Bowl XLVI wasn’t a referendum on the way the Pats or Giants are built. It doesn’t reveal any hidden depths, qualities or flaws about either team. It was just a tough, close football game where the team that had the last real possession won.
The better team won the Super Bowl last night, but that’s not saying much. The Patriots are a very good, though not extraordinary group, with the greatest coach of our generation. They are perpetual contenders, and nothing about last night’s loss should cause them to rethink anything.
Tom Coughlin saw his team move the ball with ease and nearly made the same fatal mistakes Jim Caldwell did against the Saints. When he saw he had a dominant offense, he grew conservative, punting from the Pats 41 on fourth and 4. That was with 10 minutes to play in the second quarter and it would be a full quarter of play before the Giants would penetrate that deeply into Patriots territory. He decided that protecting a 6 point lead against a great offense was more important than scoring points. It was a foolish decision that would nearly cost him a Super Bowl. His team won, though, and despite getting outcoached, he’s a hero today. If that game is played 10 times, the Giants win 6 of them and Coughlin loses 3 on his own because he knows his team is better and gets tight.
Bill Belichcik on the other hand almost stole another Super Bowl. It was 2001 all over again. His team was inferior, but they hit like hell and with any luck at all would be champions today. His decion to let the Giants score a touchdown nearly saved the season for his team. Of course, the Giants were foolish to score the touchdown, but I’ve already expressed my disdain for Coughlin above. Belichick was also crafty enough to realize the advantage of the deferred kickoff. Giving an elite offense the first possession of the second half is genius. You can make halftime adjustments and take over the game at a key moment. Brady was under a heavy rush early, but for a few minutes, the Pats solved the Giant rush, and if Brady has time, he is going to find someone open four yards downfield. By deferring, the Pats went from 9-3 down to 17-9 up without the Giants having any chance to respond. It was a masterpiece by Belichick, but he was not rewarded.
The Giants recovered two of their own fumbles last night and had a third wiped out by penalties. If the Patriots recover any of those balls, they win the Super Bowl, and today we are discussing how they are the greatest team of all time. Eli Manning took bad sacks in field goal range was spotty at best on third down going 5/11. He made one huge throw to help set up the game winning score, and deserves all the praise in the world, but it was hardly a performance for the ages. It was typical Eli. Just good enough.
Tom Brady took a beating, and really only got in a rhythm once. When he was on, he was on. He set a Super Bowl record for consecutive completions, and perfectly executed a drive at the end of the half to give his team an unlikely lead. Of course, he also made a HUGE gaffe by taking an endzone safety. His interception in the fourth quarter was a terrible throw, but I wonder if he doesn’t make that throw five years ago. Maybe he’s lost a little arm strength and can’t get the ball over the top any more. We saw him make the exact same mistake against the Ravens two weeks ago, as if his arm just isn’t quite what he thinks it is.
He had the chance to put the Giants away, but couldn’t connect with Welker late in the fourth quarter. Welker dropped the ball, but Brady’s pass wasn’t where it needed to be. He could have hit Welker in stride, but put it just a little behind him and high. I’ve made this point before, but he’s a better quarterback now than he ever was when he was winning Super Bowls. 2011 Tom Brady CRUSHES 2001 Tom Brady. Tom Brady was not clutch in 2001, and he’s not a choker now. He was an above average quarterback then, and an all time great now. He does well in clutch situations because he does well in all situations. When it’s a true coinflip, however, he’s as subject to vagaries of luck as any man is.
Football is a game to be enjoyed in the moment. Imbuing a great championship game with extra meaning or using it to read tea leaves is foolish. It was fun, physical and thrilling. That should be enough.
The Patriots have the inferior club, but the better chance to be back next year, because they play in a dramatically weaker conference. The Giants might not even win their division in 2012. They almost didn’t in 2011.
The Giants functionally had the ball last. The one minute touchdown drive is insanely rare.
The Giants fumbled three times, but didn’t lose any of them.
Brady’s pass was off by a foot. Eli’s pass was right on the fingertips.
That’s the difference in the game.
A champion was crowned last night, but nothing was decided.