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Patriots’ act shows its age

If this was not the end of the New England Patriots dynasty, you could certainly hear it from here.

On a night the New York Giants stole their Super Bowl, mistakes filled their hands, recklessness rocked their focus, and mortality rumbled in the distance.

On a night when Lucas Oil Stadium was filled with rock-star roars for Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his team’s 21-17 victory, the disillusionment that engulfed the Patriots late Sunday sounded very like a farewell.

You could hear it in the clack-clack-clack of the high heels of Gisele Bundchen as the supermodel furiously chased husband Tom Brady while he sagged down a hallway toward the interview room. When she finally caught up to the Patriots quarterback, she smothered him in a long, tearful hug and didn’t care who was watching.

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You could hear it in the bursts of cursing from Patriots coaches as they walked down the stairs from the press box to the locker room, their long and lamenting wails carrying five stories down.

You could hear it in the exasperated whisper of Wes Welker, the tough little wide receiver who looked as if he was going to cry. It was his mistake that Patriots fans will remember most, a dropped pass at the Giants 20-yard line in the final minutes that set the stage for the Giants’ game-winning touchdown drive.

“It hit me right in the hands,” Welker said, his voice cracking. “I’ve made that play 1,000 times in practice...then the one time I don’t come up with it is here?”

Welker took the heat, but the entire Patriots team simmered in a strange funk that contained hints of an aging quarterback and a coach who suddenly couldn’t connect. Brady and Bill Belichick have appeared in five Super Bowls together, the most of any quarterback-coach combination in NFL history, but when all the blunders and bloopers and bad calls were completed, you wondered whether this wouldn’t be their last.

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In my Sunday column, I stated that the hyped-up masses who were picking the Giants to win this game were wrong. My bad. I was the one who was dreadfully wrong.

First, I was wrong in questioning the Giants’ mettle. Eli Manning was stunningly good early, amazingly calm late, and soundly precise afterward.

“It’s been a wild day,” he said after leading another legendary Super Bowl-winning, 88-yard comeback touchdown drive. “We have a great, tough bunch of guys.”

I was wrong in thinking the Patriots were still capable of being that kind of team in this kind of game.

I was wrong the moment Brady’s first play, from his end zone, under pressure, was a 50-yard pass to nobody. It resulted in an intentional-grounding safety that may have been the dumbest big play of Brady’s career.

I was wrong on the Giants’ ensuing drive when a Patriots’ third-down stop was negated because they had 12 men on the field. Two plays later, the Giants scored their first touchdown The mistake was particularly heinous because the 12th man, cornerback Antwaun Molden, was running on to the field, not off, surely making it one of the worst blunders of Belichick’s career.

“It’s a coach’s substitution and we just, obviously, made a mistake there,” said Belichick.

These Patriots are clearly as fragile as their gift win in the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens indicated. Their solidity must now be questioned, their dynasty with the 34-year-old quarterback and difficult coach seemingly teetering.

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“This is one that will take a while to shake off,” said Welker.

Welker was on that undefeated Patriots team that was upset by the Giants and Manning in the Super Bowl four years ago and, although he didn’t say it, he didn’t need to.

Unimaginably enough, this loss was worse. This loss was tougher because this time, the Patriots thought they gave it away.

They gave it away not only with drops and penalties, but also by failing to recover two Giants fumbles, including a ball that was stripped from Hakeem Nicks in the third quarter in the middle of a Giants field-goal drive.

They gave it away not only with Brady’s poor judgment at the beginning of the game, but also when he threw a dreadful 49-yard pass to limping Rob Gronkowski at the start of the fourth quarter that was intercepted by a leaping Chase Blackburn.

“All this week we spent listening to the Giants talk, but, in the end, it came down to what we didn’t do,” said receiver Deion Branch. “It was like we kind of hit a wall.”

This Patriots era may have also hit the wall, with the loudest smack occurring in the middle of the third quarter when Brady, who had just finished completing a Super Bowl record 16 consecutive passes, was thrown to the ground by Justin Tuck and landed on his weak left shoulder.

At the time of the sack, the Patriots were leading, 17-12. Not only didn’t they score again, but they never moved closer than the Giants’ 44-yard line .

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When asked about the shoulder, Brady paused for a long moment before saying, “It’s football. Everybody is hurting.”

Nothing seemingly hurt more than the fact that, in the end, they had to literally give up to have a chance to win. History will long remember that the winning touchdown in the 46th Super Bowl -- a six-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw -- was intentionally allowed by the Patriots defense. Belichick figured his defense couldn’t prevent a game-winning field goal, and he wanted to give Brady time to engineer a comeback, so he literally told his players to lie down.

“I heard the coaches say, ‘Let them score,’ and I was like, ‘What?’ ”' said Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes.

It was indeed a night when the Giants were “Wow” while the Patriots were “What?”

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Record-setting day

Records set in the 2012 Super Bowl

INDIVIDUAL

Oldest winning head coach: 65, Tom Coughlin, N.Y. Giants

Most consecutive completions: 16, Tom Brady, New England

Most consecutive completions to start game: 9, Eli Manning, N.Y.

Most passing yards, career: 1,277, Brady

Most passes, career: 197, Brady

Most completions, career: 127, Brady

Most punts inside 10, game: 3, Steve Weatherford, N.Y.

TEAM

Most first downs passing, game, both teams: 33

(N.Y. 18, New England 15)

--

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

First quarter: Giants 9, Patriots 0

THE BIG NUMBER

9

Completions on the

first nine passes by

New York quarterback Eli Manning, a Super Bowl record to start a game. Tom Brady didn’t throw his second pass until less than three minutes remained

in the first half.

Momentum: It was all on the side of the Giants, who held a 9-0 lead before the Patriots could run their second play from scrimmage. The Giants outgained the Patriots 108-54 and had the ball nearly twice as long as New England.

Did you notice? The Giants’ Justin Tuck pressured Tom Brady into an intentional grounding penalty from the end zone, resulting in a safety. . . . On New York’s touchdown drive, Sterling Moore stripped the ball from Victor Cruz inside the five but a penalty (too many men on field) negated the turnover. . . . On the touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Cruz, Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo was defending the slant but never turned to look for the ball and overran the play as the pass sailed past.

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Second quarter: Patriots 10, Giants 9

THE BIG NUMBER

8

Times New England running back Danny Woodhead touched the ball on the Patriots’ 14-play drive that gave them the halftime lead.

He ran the ball four times and caught four passes, the last one for a four-yard touchdown.

Momentum: The Giants seemed to be in control before Tom Brady took the Patriots on a 96-yard touchdown drive for the lead eight seconds before halftime. An illegal huddle penalty helped stop the Giants’ first drive and a holding penalty derailed the second.

Did you notice? Eli Manning’s first incompletion came when he threw a pass away. . . . Jason Pierre-Paul forced New England to settle for a field goal when he batted down Brady’s third-down pass inside the five. . . . The Patriots’ 96-yard drive was actually 98 since they were called for a false start on the first play. . . . On Danny Woodhead’s touchdown catch, the Giants’ Pierre-Paul fell back into coverage after the initial four-man rush.

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Third quarter: Patriots 17, Giants 15

THE BIG NUMBER

16

Consecutive passes completed by Tom Brady, breaking the Super Bowl record held by San Francisco’s

Joe Montana, who

connected on 13 straight in the 49ers’ 55-10

victory over Denver in Super Bowl XXIV.

Momentum: The decision to defer on the opening kickoff looked like a game-changer when the Patriots drove 79 yards for a touchdown on the first possession of the half. However, the Giants bounced back with two field-goal drives to pull within two.

Did you notice? Aaron Hernandez froze Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn with a simple hesitation move, easily scoring even though the 12-yard touchdown pass was behind him. . . . Tom Brady’s Super Bowl-record string of 16 straight completions ended when he threw a pass away because of strong coverage. . . . New York’s second field-goal drive was saved when Henry Hynoski recovered a fumble by Hakeem Nicks, who had been stripped by Jerod Mayo.

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Fourth quarter: Giants 21, Patriots 17

THE BIG NUMBER

38

Yards gained on Mario Manningham’s acrobatic sideline catch on a pass from MVP Manning. The play was reminiscent of David Tyree’s key 32-yard, helmet-aided catch in Super Bowl XLII, also made on the deciding drive.

Momentum: When Tom Brady connected with Danny Woodhead for 19 yards on third down deep in Patriots territory, it looked like a clock-killer that might doom the Giants. However, Mario Manningham’s stunning 38-yard reception between two Patriots near the sideline at the 50 turned out to be the game-changer.

Did you notice? New England was fortunate on the outlet pass to Woodhead because Antrel Rolle was blitzing untouched from the other side. . . . Vince Wilfork was bull-rushing into Eli Manning’s path and forced what appeared to be a desperation heave before Manningham’s spectacular grab. . . . Rob Gronkowski was closest to the tipped ball on the Patriots’ last-ditch bomb. -- Athan Atsales


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