Can't win 'em all

Times Staff Writer

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The coach should have been fired. The quarterback could never live up to his big brother. The star receiver's bum ankle was so bad he couldn't practice. And the rest really didn't stand a chance.

Good thing for the New York Giants they didn't listen to a word.

In a do-you-believe-in-miracles moment that rivals any other in NFL history, the Giants thumbed their nose at perfection on Sunday, turning back the New England Patriots at the finish line with a 17-14 victory in Super Bowl XLII.

"It was our time," said Michael Strahan, part of a Giants defensive line that sacked Tom Brady five times and pummeled him many more. "We didn't want this to be another dynasty story for the Patriots. We wanted to start our own dynasty."

The Patriots, favored by 12 points, were looking to become the first NFL team to win 19 games in a season and to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only teams to finish with an unblemished record.

Problem is, 18-1 doesn't have the same ring to it -- or any ring, for that matter.

The Giants delivered a knockout as cold as those iced-down champagne bottles. Yes, the team with embattled Coach Tom Coughlin, beleaguered quarterback Eli Manning and banged-up receiver Plaxico Burress -- the guy who brashly predicted a Giants victory last week -- had the final say.

Manning, who for years has lived in the shadow of his older brother Peyton, directed an 83-yard touchdown drive in the final 2 minutes 42 seconds to clinch the unbelievable victory.

The game-winning play was a 13-yard touchdown pass to Burress with 35 seconds to play, when the lanky receiver slipped past cornerback Ellis Hobbs at the line and got so open he backpedaled to make the catch.

But it was a play earlier in the drive that had people at University of Phoenix Stadium rubbing their eyes, and surely millions of Americans hitting replay on their TiVos. On third and five from the New York 34, Manning dropped back and was swallowed by a cluster of defenders.

Only a frame-by-frame view could explain how, but Manning popped back out of the scrum long enough to heave a long pass down the middle to David Tyree, the team's No. 5 receiver, who's far better known as a special-teamer.

With the pop-fly pass heading their way, Tyree out-leaped safety Rodney Harrison and somehow pinned the ball on his own helmet as he fell backward and held on for a 32-yard gain.

"You have to make the most of your opportunities," said Tyree, who joked that he probably has the worst vertical leap on the team. "You have to go up and get it at its highest point."

Watching from an even higher point, in a luxury suite, was Peyton Manning, who last season directed the Indianapolis Colts to a championship. This time, he delighted watching his kid brother match that feat -- and, just as Peyton did, earn most-valuable-player honors for the game.

"The Patriots had an unbelievable year," Peyton said. "I can't tell you how good a football team they are. For the Giants to have beaten them in this game tonight -- and in these surroundings -- it is going to go down as one of the greatest games of all time."

Teammates have a strange nickname for Tyree: "Lay Hands Inc." They call him that because, more than being a pass-catcher, he's a physical blocker who can rough up defensive backs. But the Giants might want to come up with something new.

"Amani Toomer paid me the highest compliment today when he came off the field," Tyree said. "He said, 'You're a football player.' "

Likewise, over the course of four quarters, the Giants made a marvelous transformation. They went from a speed bump on the Patriots' road to destiny to New England's worst nightmare -- a face plant at the finish line.

Coach Bill Belichick couldn't bear to watch the end. He jogged over to New York's sideline as the final seconds were ticking off and players, coaches and photographers flooded onto the field. The clock stopped with one second remaining, however, and the field had to be cleared so the Giants could take one final snap.

By that point, Belichick had already run up the locker-room tunnel, his temperament matching his bright red hoodie. In his postgame news conference, the coach answered in mumbling bursts, giving even less information than he typically does.

He was asked if this was the most disappointing loss of his career.

"I don't rank 'em," he grumbled.

It certainly seemed like a low point for some of his players. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who won three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots from the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, said the reality of the defeat sunk in as everyone was heading to the locker room.

"I think it's evident when you lose the Super Bowl, when you're walking off the field and you're getting confetti sprayed in your face with the other team's colors," he said. "You realize what's happened."

Both the Patriots and Giants wear red-white-and-blue uniforms. But it was just that kind of game for New England: confusing, disorienting, and supremely disappointing.

Then again, maybe the Giants' color should be black. That's what the players and coaches decided to wear last week when they stepped off the plane from New York. It was as if they came dressed for a funeral.

Evidently, not their own.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

2:00 drill

BY QUARTERS

*--* N.Y. Giants 3 0 0 14 -- 17 New England 0 7 0 7 -- 14 *--*

MVP

Giants' Eli Manning completes 9 of 14 passes in fourth for 152 yards and two TDs, including 13-yard clincher to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds to go. Finishes 19 of 34 for 255 yards.

KEY PLAY

Third and five from New York 44, Manning escapes rush and throws deep over the middle to David Tyree, who makes a spectacular catch at the New England 24.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

FIRST QUARTER -- GIANTS 3, PATRIOTS 0

PASSING LEADERS

Giants

Manning...5-7, 38 yards

Patriots

Brady...3-7, 23 yards

RUSHING LEADERS

Giants

Jacobs...6-15 yards

Patriots

Maroney...3-14 yards

RECEIVING LEADERS

Giants

Smith...3-21 yards

Patriots

Faulk, Welker...1- 8 yards

Momentum: New York had a solid drive to open the game, but the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal after New England's defense stepped up near the goal line. The Patriots answered with a lengthy drive that was aided by a pass-interference penalty in the end zone against New York's Antonio Pierce to close the quarter.

Unanswered questions: Why did New York's play-calling get conservative on third down once the Giants were in striking distance of scoring a touchdown? How did New England get tight end Benjamin Watson in single coverage against Pierce in the end zone?

Did you notice? On New York's first possession that Eli Manning successfully converted third-down passes to receivers defended by New England's reserve defensive backs Randall Gay and Brandon Meriweather.

--

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

SECOND QUARTER -- PATRIOTS 7, GIANTS 3

PASSING LEADERS

Giants

Manning...3- 9, 47 yards

Patriots

Brady...5-7, 59 yards

RUSHING LEADERS

Giants

Bradshaw...2-26 yards

Patriots

Maroney...5-3 yards, 1 TD

RECEIVING LEADERS

Giants

Toomer...1-38 yards

Patriots

Moss...1-18 yards

Momentum: New England had an edge early when Maroney scored the first touchdown but failed to keep it going even after an interception by Ellis Hobbs. Mistakes kept the Giants' offense from taking advantage and the first half ended without either team in control.

Unanswered questions: How did the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw pry the football away from a New England defender after he lost a fumble and seemed to be out of the play? Did it just seem as if the Giants' pass rush knew whenever the Patriots would pass?

Did you notice? That offensive pass interference was not called when New York's Amani Toomer pushed off Hobbs before catching a 38-yard sideline pass. . . . That New York failed to produce points after the Giants forced the Patriots into consecutive three-plays-and-punt drives.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

THIRD QUARTER -- PATRIOTS 7, GIANTS 3

PASSING LEADERS

Giants

Manning...2-4, 18 yards

Patriots

Brady...9-12, 65 yards

RUSHING LEADERS

Giants

Bradshaw...2-6 yards

Patriots

Maroney...3-14 yards

RECEIVING LEADERS

Giants

Toomer...2-18 yards

Patriots

Welker...3-36 yards

Momentum: New England began the second half with the football and drove into Giants territory but failed to score. New York's offense was not much better and gave the ball back to the Patriots, who had some success but still ended the quarter with another punt.

Unanswered questions: Why did New England continue to attempt deep passes to Randy Moss instead of getting the ball to him on short throws? How was it the Giants' defensive backs seemed to read the Patriots' passing plays as if they knew what New England was going to run?

Did you notice? That New England Coach Bill Belichick was able to take advantage of a television timeout to review a play before using his red challenge flag that worked in the Patriots' favor. . . . That New York's defensive linemen dominated by beating one-on-one blocks by New England's overmatched offensive line.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

GIANTS 17, PATRIOTS 14

PASSING LEADERS

Giants

Manning...9-14, 152 yards, 2 TD

Patriots

Brady...12-22, 119 yards, 1 TD

RUSHING LEADERS

Giants

Bradshaw...3-13 yards

Patriots

Maroney...2-9 yards

RECEIVING LEADERS

Giants

Toomer...3-28 yards

Patriots

Welker...5-50 yards

Momentum: Back and forth. Eli Manning completed a 45-yard pass to tight end Kevin Boss, which led to Manning's five-yard touchdown pass to David Tyree and gave New York a three-point lead. New England answered with a lengthy drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Randy Moss. The Giants won with their own dramatic drive, capped by Manning's touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.

Unanswered questions: Why did New York's play calling again get conservative when the Giants had the ball and a 10-7 lead? How did New England's defenders not take down Manning before he completed a clutch pass to Tyree on the Giants' winning drive?

Did you notice? That New England's Asante Samuel dropped an interception that would have ended the game on New York's game-deciding drive.

--Lonnie White

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