|Manningham's toe-tapping changed the momentum of the game. (AP)|
Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and, um, sorts through it for you. The big story, winners and losers and sometimes fancy moving pictures. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter.
The Turning Point
INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL might be a quarterbacks league, but if you don't think the guys catching the passes are the most important players on an NFL roster these days, you need to re-think your approach to what constitutes a truly dangerous team. Look no further than Mario Manningham, who's insanely difficult catch on the first play of the Giants final drive sparked New York to its second Super Bowl victory in five years.
"That was the turning point," fellow wideout Hakeem Nicks said about Manningham's catch. "Mario comes up in clutch situations time in and time out throughout these playoffs and that was just another time of him showcasing that."
Manningham, who had a down regular season but made huge catches in recent games, simply "wasn't going to let the ball go."
"I knew I had to freeze my feet when the ball touched my fingertips," Manningham said. "Wherever I was at when the ball hit my fingertips, I just froze my feet and fell. I knew I was either going to get hit or hit the ground. I knew something was going to happen but that I couldn't let that ball go."
He didn't and the Giants were able to march 88 yards the field to score. What makes it particularly impressive is that the Patriots forced Manningham and Nicks to step up by blanketing the salsa-dancing Victor Cruz after his touchdown catch in the first quarter.
That's why Manning, even though was facing a Cover-2 look from the Pats secondary and didn't have a good window to work the ball in. But he trusted Manningham, found a look, stepped up and made a big-boy throw in the biggest moment on the biggest possible stage.
"Usually that is not your best match-up," Manning said afterward. "I looked that way. I saw I had the safety cheated in a little bit and threw it down the sideline. Great catch by [Manningham], keeping both feet in. That's a huge play in the game right there, when you're backed up, to get a 40-yard gain and get to the middle of field."
This isn't to say that Manning wouldn't be great without his wideouts. He would. He's a great quarterback and he played like it, particularly on that final drive and the start of the game, when Manning kicked things off by going 10 for 10.
"We notice," Nicks said of the quarterback's start. "We notice everything. We notice when he's clicking. We know when we have to step up and get the job done. Our hard work that we put in through the week and in practice and in film room just paid off."
Manningham's catch was ridiculous; but more than anything it's a microcosm of how much these wideouts meant to the Giants during their run.
Cruz carried New York at times during the regular season. Manningham scored a touchdown in the first three playoff games. How about Nicks? He only finished the season with 28 catches, 444 receiving yards and four touchdowns ... in the playoffs. The catches
Nicks was nearly unstoppable on Sunday in Indy, making big catch after big catch in traffic, going up for slightly overthrown balls and reeling them in, including a pair of critical grabs on the final drive.
"You just address [the fourth quarter] like any other time," Nicks said. "We knew what we were capable of doing. We knew we could come through in clutch situations."
That's what they did, and it should look familiar. It's the same formula that the Packers used last year when they toppled the Steelers. Nicks and Cruz are actually better than Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. And Jordy Nelson had a superior year in 2011 to Manningham, but his 2010 season (45 catches, 582 yards), followed by a postseason full of big catches is eerily reminiscent of the year Manningham (39 catches, 523 yards) just had.
"I think we as an offense have been very, very successful," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said afterwards. "Certainly the trigger-man's got to do his job. I think collectively the receivers have really stepped up, made some tremendous plays. Mario did it tonight, but it's been either Victor or Hakeem. Somebody as made some big plays, so as a group, they expect to do well. They expect to put it in the end zone."
Take it back two more years and look at the defending champions -- the Steelers and the Saints -- and you have talented wide receiving corps making catches on a huge stage.
The Patriots, like the Steelers before them, didn't have enough bodies to cover the weapons offered by their opponent. They decided to shut down the Giants top option -- Cruz -- and got torched by Nicks and Manningham.
It's the definition of sound roster-building. Given all the hype surrounding the Pats tight ends in 2011, it's particularly ironic that the Giants receivers were the key to beating the Patriots. Or maybe it's just proper NFL evolution.
WinnersEli Manning: He has two Super Bowls and these are not backdoor-luck wins either. The 2007 victory might've been defensively-based, but the win doesn't happen if Eli doesn't make some monster plays. On Sunday, he truly propelled himself into a rare class of quarterback; with less than four minutes to go and 88 yards to move the ball, Eli, quite simply, got it done. The receivers helped, of course, but he made huge plays.
Tom Coughlin: Homeboy is 5-1 in his career against Belichick and has two Super Bowl wins in the last five years. Eight weeks ago? He was on the freaking hot seat. Now he's probably headed to the Hall of Fame if he can coach another three to four strong years in New York. If he wants, he can coach there forever, regardless of what ignorant and impatient fans say amid losing streaks. Two Super Bowls is the equivalent of a lifetime contract in the NFL.
Mario Manningham: Manningham didn't make every single catch, and he wasn't as good as Hakeem Nicks on Sunday night, but he had five catches for 73 yards and none were more important than a toe-tapping 38-yard catch along the Patriots sideline late in the fourth quarter. With 3:46 left on the clock and down two points, the Giants took a shot, Manning made a big-boy throw and Manningham made an absolutely insane catch along the sidelines. Not only did it totally flip momentum and give the Giants better field position, but it forced Bill Belichick to burn a timeout to challenge the play.
NFL Honors: Awards shows are ticking timebombs stuffed with potential disaster. Which is what makes it so impressive that the NFL pulled of a polished, professional, tidy and entertaining one-hour special that managed to dole out all the big end-of-year awards in impressive fashion. The only question is: what took so long?
Indianapolis: The city of Indy isn't supposed to be a great location for a Super Bowl, but the town gets an A+ from us for their effort in Super Bowl 46. Things were a little rowdy and crowded downtown over the weekend and I could've dealt with a few less bag checks, but it's hard to give Indy other than a gargantuan round of applause for the way they set up and ran the Super Bowl. Everyone was courteous, the weather was wonderful, people running hotels and restaurants adapted to surging crowds. (Even the people in Indy got quotes to the press box faster than Dallas did.) Sunday night's game -- and absolutely thriller -- was the perfect cap to a well-run weekend.
|It's a crippling Super Bowl loss for Belichick and Brady. (AP)|
LosersTom Brady: There's not much difference between 4-1 and 3-2. It's just one game. But if Brady was 4-1 in Super Bowls, we'd be talking about him as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Instead, some people will label Brady as "the guy who couldn't beat Eli on the big stage." Travel back in time to January of 2008 and inform someone of that information. They'll laugh at you and double down on their monster bet on the Patriots the first time these teams met up. Brady's an all-time gamer, for sure. No one can take away three Super Bowls. But it's going to be hard to win an argument where you claim he's the GOAT.
Ahmad Bradshaw: The first loser to ever score a game-winning touchdown, Bradshaw scored what might be the weirdest TD in NFL history. (See: below.) He took the handoff, started doing what he's done thousands of times in his life and ran up the middle. Only he wasn't supposed to score. He did anyway, falling into the end zone and giving Brady nearly a minute left on the clock to attempt a comeback. It would be awkward to be him if Brady had completed the Hail Mary.
Bill Belichick: Maybe it was just karma for cutting Tiquan Underwood?
Madonna: When Mrs. Brinson is texting me to tell me how boring the Super Bowl halftime show was, that's not a good thing. And look, Madonna was big time and I know a lot of people enjoyed the show, but she lip-synched most of it, played one song that no one really likes, and another that no one knows. You're not here pimping your new album. Play the stuff people want. All that was missing from that fiasco was a painting of Alex Rodriguez as a centaur.
Peyton Manning: Peyton's not a huge loser, because he gets to celebrate his brother winning a second Super Bowl. That's cool stuff. I'd be pumped if my brother won a second Super Bowl. Actually, I take that back. If I was an NFL quarterback and my brother was an NFL quarterback and he had one more Super Bowl than me, I'd be furious, and probably a little bitter. And if it so happened that I was dealing with a neck injury, I'd probably be pretty motivated to catch him.
GIF O' THE WEEK
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.