Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin Game-Manage Themselves Into Hall Of Fame Consideration


Anybody see the shot of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft reacting to the last play of the game?  He and his family turned their heads as the Hail Mary reached the end zone.  When it fell incomplete, those surrounding Mr. Kraft drifted away from him, like they knew he’s not someone you wanted to be around after a loss.  But there he was, watching the team that rallied around him and the memory of his wife, Myra, who in July, fall just short of making their dreams come true.

Kraft didn’t look angry, however.  Instead, he stood there quietly and looked really, really sad – crestfallen even.  Obviously he has had experienced his share of true loss, but I understand that at that moment, it felt like the worst day of his life.

So I felt bad that his Patriots lost to the New York Giants, 21-17, in Super Bowl XLVI Sunday.  But then I saw that Rush Limbaugh was a guest in his box.  Limbaugh was caught picking his nose:

But that’s not the grossest thing about this.  What in the hell is Bob Kraft, a man that exemplifies class and respect, doing being friends with that pill-popping, race-baiting, teabagging lardass?  I’m sorry, but now I don’t feel bad that the Giants won.

That’s my lede.  The rest of the column I’ll do Q-and-A style.

Was that an exciting Super Bowl or what?  Uh, what.  I don’t mean that it was a total bore.  A game that changes leads in the last minute and wasn’t technically decided until the last play certainly should be categorized as worthy of a championship game.

But XLVI had a lot of fantastic finishes to measure up to in the last decade or so: Kevin Dyson stopped at the 1; Adam Vinatieri kicking the Patriots to the upset of the St. Louis Rams in the first post-9/11 SB; Ben Roethlisberger-to-Santonio Holmes and, in the very same matchup four years ago, Eli Manning-to-Plaxico Burress.

This Super Bowl had none of those endings, a play that decided the title after a back-and-forth battle.  This once again was an instance of a championship game being close while not being all that good.

Come on, that was a great ending!  It was a tight ending.  Great?  The problem is that everything from the last touchdown to the final play did not show players playing their best.

You had Bill Belichick order his defense not to work too hard to stop Ahmad Bradshaw from getting into the end zone because they needed time to score.  But the Giants needed the points from a touchdown less than they needed to kill clock.  So, when Manning handed Bradshaw the ball, he told him to get down at the 1.  (He revealed this in his interview Monday night on Late Show with David Letterman.)

Bradshaw saw the Red Sea part before him and thought this was going to be the easiest touchdown he ever ran for.  But then he remembered that is exactly what the Patriots wanted.  So Bradshaw pivoted his foot, but it was too late to stop his momentum and instilled inclination to score.  He went into the end zone ass first to give his Giants the lead and, important for New England, stop the clock with 57 seconds left.  This was a case where the offense didn’t want to score but the defense allowed them to score.  In that moment, the Super Bowl was sucked into Bizarro World.  I understand the motivation from Bradshaw’s and Belichick’s sides, but this is a strategy Arena football teams use.

So Brady needed to cover 80 yards to get the lead one last time.  Instead of driving down the field like he has when the stakes have been just as high, this possession stalled from the get-go.  On back-to-back plays, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez dropped passes.  Neither ball hit them in the numbers, but they were catchable, and in a Super Bowl-winning drive, they had to bring them in.  Those completions would at least have brought them closer to the end zone and given Brady some more passing options for one last play – and maybe football fans would get a denouement worthy of the truly great Super Bowls.

So what should Super Bowl XLVI be remembered for?  Should being the operative word.  This Super Bowl should be remembered for all the miscues.  First, the Patriots:

·         Wes Welker is still beating himself up over that falling-backwards drop in the Patriots’ second-to-last drive.  He hauls that in and it’s at least three more points and a lot less time on the clock.

·         Has anyone seen an intentional grounding penalty called on a throw that deep?  I thought I saw a New England player underneath (way underneath) on a crossing pattern, so I guess the intended receiver could have been him.  Nonetheless, respect to referee John Parry and at least the third-highest-rated officials in on that call for having the balls to flag it and award a safety.

·         The Patriots did not force a turnover in the game.  They would have gotten one when Brandon Spikes recovered the ball Sterling Moore pried out of Victor Cruz’s hands.  At their own 9, it would have been a game-changer even if it did happen late in the first quarter.  But New England was penalized for having 12 men on the field on the snap.  Two plays later, the Giants made the most of their second chance when Manning hit Cruz for a touchdown and a 9-0 lead.

·         They did, however, commit one.  Brady has never been a scrambler, and I still don’t know if he should have aired out that pass that was intercepted by Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn in the hopes of drawing a pass interference penalty.  (By the way, did you see the replay on that?  Rob Gronkowski, gimpy ankle and all, managed to run 49 yards down the field.  What was more impressive is that after Blackburn stopped dead in his tracks in the middle of the field because he assumed Brady was going to get sacked, he managed to catch up to Gronkowski and come down with the ball.  There’s your game-changer right there.)

The G-Men had their share of screw-ups too.  Theirs just won’t be remembered because they won:

·         They started the game rolling down the field.  But they couldn’t get to kicker Lawrence Tynes’s field goal range when Manning got sacked in two of the last three plays of the drive.  (One came courtesy of defensive end Mark Anderson, who could have been MVP had New England won.)

·         Left guard Kevin Boothe can safely sweep his bad night underneath the confetti that fell onto the Lucas Oil Stadium field.  He was called for a false start and a hold.  The latter wiped off a third-down conversion and forced his Giants to punt late in the first half.  On the following drive New England scored to take the lead, and after halftime, when Madonna disappeared in a puff of smoke and M.I.A. told 111+ million viewers that she and not the Giants or Patriots are #1, New England hit paydirt again.  What was once a 9-0 Giants lead became a 17-9 Giants deficit.

·         Finally, while Mario Manningham should be given credit for keeping his toes inbounds while holding onto the ball to begin that final, fateful, Super Bowl-winning drive for New York, he made up for screwing up a similar sideline play earlier in the quarter.  From the Patriot 38, Manning lofted an arc towards Manningham on the far sideline.  But instead of running parallel to the sideline, he adjusted his trajectory to an angle toward the sideline.  Manningham wanted to make sure he caught the ball, and he did.  But by the time he established possession, his second foot was out of bounds.  Cris Collinsworth and the NBC production crew thought the mistake was so egregious that they had already built animation to show what not to do.  How did they know someone would screw up in that particular way beforehand?

But that Manningham catch was the shizznit, yeah?  Hey, it was great.  But in my opinion, Tyree > Manningham.  Eli Manning was not almost brought down Sunday like he was four years ago.  His pass to David Tyree came on third down; the one to Manningham, although just as crucial, was the first play of the drive.  And Manningham didn’t pin the ball next to his helmet.

OK, Debbie Downer, you have to at least give props to Manning, don’t you?  I don’t have any major objections to him being the Super Bowl MVP.  But I want to give it to Tuck just for variety’s sake.  The quarterback always gets the glory.  Manning did connect on three-fourths of his passes (30-for-40), throw that touchdown to Cruz and set a record for most consecutive completions to start a Super Bowl (nine).  But he only amassed 296 yards, and besides Manningham’s catch, they were quiet ones.

On the other side of the ball, Brady also set an SB record for most passes completed in a row (16, during the middle of the game when they scored 17 unanswered points).  But he completed three less passes, made one more pass attempt, and notched 20 less yards than Manning.  He threw two touchdowns (one more than Manning) but also that costly pick to Blackburn.

In a game I thought would tilt decisively toward the air, both teams actually ran on 47 of Super Bowl XLVI’s 133 plays (35.3%).  I have this nagging suspicion that if Manning and Brady were allowed to sling it, we could have seen a shootout in the thirties.  Instead, it felt like both teams played it carefully, like they didn’t want to be responsible for a game-changing mistake, and they played sloppily anyway.

But he’s now better than his big brother Peyton, no?  No.  Kid brother Eli may now have more rings than Peyton does, and more Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards than he does (both by a 2-to-1 score).  But Peyton has four regular season MVP awards to Eli’s zero, and you can say that such an accolade is a more accurate measure of a player’s value to his team.  Actually, seeing how much the Indianapolis Colts cratered after Peyton missed the whole season accurately calculated his worth to the team.  When people joke that he should’ve received his fifth MVP this year (instead of Aaron Rodgers), they say that only half-jokingly.  Anyway, let’s just say that even though Eli isn’t a better quarterback than Peyton, he is a damn good one, a clutch one, and a more accomplished one.

And what about Tom Coughlin?  He may be the beneficiary of deliberate gameplans and execution that was far from crisp, but he won his second Super Bowl, tying the man he coached under for so long, Bill Parcells.  He has to be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame now, even if it remains really tough to get in.  Just look at the man he coached under for so long, Bill Parcells – he still hasn’t been elected.  In the meantime, Coughlin can settle for doing his best work when coming under fire, and being able to coach the New York Giants for as long as he damn well pleases now.

Two other things.  First, why is Coughlin not with the Jacksonville Jaguars, his first head coaching gig?  They must be kicking themselves now.  Second, does he know Flavor Flav – or even who he is?

And how about the Patriots?  Well, first of all, it’s kind of wussy that no one from the team – Belichick, Brady, any of the receivers who dropped passes – were given permission to speak with NBC before they just had to get to the premiere of The Voice.  (Because of that, NBC actually started the show ahead of time, at least according to the timestamp my digital converter gave.)  I understand that you don’t want to speak after suffering the worst kind of loss you can suffer.  But if your job is to speak to the media, speak to the media.  Mutter curses under your breath, doesn’t matter – go out there and do your job.

I thought the Giants were going to run circles around the Patriot defense in the Circle City, but they didn’t.  And they managed to bring down Manning three times, one more than the Giants did to Brady.  Maybe they trade up in the draft and get a stud cornerback, like LSU’s Morris Claiborne or Dre Kirkpatrick out of Alabama.  But every team could use a stud cornerback.  And Belichick has done a near-flawless job of sewing silk purses out of sows’ ears.  As long as Brady’s playing elite, they’ll be back.

Finally, does this loss tarnish Brady’s career, like it asked on SI.com?  No.  He has two Super Bowl MVP’s like Manning (funny how we now know that we’re talking about Eli and not Peyton – that might be the way things are from now on) and three rings.  His legacy is set.  Yes, he has this bugaboo on his résumé called the New York Giants.  But you can have that and still be a Hall of Famer.

However, keep an eye out on his wife, leggy supermodel Gisele Bündchen.  I don’t necessarily think the team is going to let her under-bus throwing of Brady’s targets slide, no matter how much they say they’re still together.  If Brady gets the reputation of being too “Hollywood” for the team and start calling his wife Yoko Ono, you could see the team atmosphere start to fracture.

Posted by WilliamSou at 5:33 AM

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