Eli, monster defense power Giants to shocking Super Bowl victory

By Greg Garber

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There was a palpable expectation of history here on a chilly night in the Arizona desert. Super Bowl XLII delivered on that score, but history of a different sort than predicted was made Sunday.

The Giants, 12-point underdogs, ruined the New England Patriots' quest for a perfect season. New York, which lost six of 16 games in the regular season, prevailed 17-14 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Quarterback Eli Manning, the game's MVP, lofted a regal, floating 13-yard pass to

Plaxico Burress -- over Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs --- to put the Giants over the top with 35 seconds left.

"The guys on this team and the run we've made, it's hard to believe -- it really is," Manning said. "The drive at the end, there were so many clutch plays by so many guys. It is an unbelievable game and an unbelievable feeling."

Said Burress: "This is the greatest feeling in professional sports. For us to come out and win a world championship tonight -- nobody gave us a shot."

Somewhere, the 1972 Miami Dolphins (17-0) are popping their long-awaited champagne.

The Giants are nothing if not resilient. Because they were technically the visiting team, they won their 11th consecutive road game, including all four playoff wins.

It was the second straight Super Bowl victory for a son of Archie and Olivia Manning, a tribute to good genes and diligent film study. The Colts' Peyton Manning won his first Super Bowl last season at the age of 30. Eli, who was also a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, is three years younger.

Manning completed 19 of 34 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns.

The win was especially sweet for defensive end Michael Strahan and wide receiver

Amani Toomer, the only holdovers from the 34-7 strafing by the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. In addition, it was the third Super Bowl victory for one of the league's most venerable franchises, to go with the Vince Lombardi Trophies won at the end of the 1986 and 1990 seasons.

"We shocked the world but not ourselves," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said.

New England beat New York 38-35 in the final regular-season game five weeks ago, but the Giants gained a great deal of confidence in the process. On Sunday, they proved the close competition in that first meeting was no fluke.

If the Giants had a dream scenario for the opening drive, their first possession -- which consumed nine minutes and 59 seconds and required 16 plays -- was it. Manning converted his first four third downs (a first-drive record for Super Bowls), but couldn't manage a fifth, throwing too far underneath to Steve Smith. Lawrence Tynes, who won the NFC title game with an overtime field goal, hit one from 32 yards out to give the Giants a 3-0 lead.

The Patriots answered with a similarly muscular drive but, in what seemed to be a telling result, came away with more. On third-and-10 at the New York 17-yard line, Pierce, his back to the ball, hit

Benjamin Watson as the New England tight end reached for the ball in the end zone. It was called pass interference, and two plays later, Laurence Maroney --- who began things with a 43-yard kickoff return --- finished it with a 1-yard run three seconds into the second quarter.

It marked the fewest possessions ever (two) in a Super Bowl's opening quarter.

The Giants had driven inside the Patriots' 20 when something happened to Manning for the first time in these playoffs --- he was intercepted, albeit through no fault of his own. Smith bobbled a low ball, and it popped up, right into the hands of Hobbs. The Giants' defense held the Patriots, but then the offense nearly turned the ball over a second time before Ahmad Bradshaw recovered his own fumble.

Coming into the game, the key matchup appeared to be the New York pass rush -- which produced a league-high 53 sacks in the regular season -- versus the New England offensive line. In the Dec. 29 meeting between the two teams, Brady was sacked only once, and that was minus two starters.

With all five regular starters in, the Giants sacked Brady on back-to-back plays midway through the second quarter. Kawika Mitchell feigned a drop-back posture and blitzed. He and Strahan both got a piece of Brady for a 6-yard loss. On the next play, defensive end Justin Tuck blew inside left guard Logan Mankins and leveled Brady.

The Giants had a terrific opportunity to make it a one-point game, but a crazy circus play worked against them. Patriots' linebacker Adalius Thomas knocked the ball loose from Manning, and Bradshaw tried to knock the ball out of bounds. It stayed in, and Smith recovered for what would have been a first down. But Bradshaw was flagged for an illegal touch and New York eventually was forced to punt.

New England was driving when Tuck hit Brady again, this time from behind, and knocked the ball loose. The Giants recovered, and a Hail Mary fell incomplete in the the Patriots' end zone to end a curiously quiet first half.

At halftime, the Giants had run 34 plays to 27 by the Patriots and had possessed the ball for 19 minutes and 27 seconds of the first 30 minutes. Yet they trailed, though only by the modest margin of 7-3.

Tuck, who recently signed a contract extension, had six tackles at the half, plus two sacks and a forced fumble. New York defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo created pressure with a variety of looks (one time, he blitzed two defensive backs), almost exclusively up the middle.

As a result, New England had a paltry 81 yards in the first half and the offense looked disjointed and unsettled.

With the "Spygate" scandal and new allegations that the Patriots had videotaped the

St. Louis Rams before a Super Bowl, Belichick has been under fire for violating the moral spirit of competition. Just the same, his anal-retentive nature can be a plus. Early in the third quarter, Belichick successfully challenged a non-call, and a review showed that, indeed, linebacker Chase Blackburn was the 12th man on the field for a punt. New England retained possession, but a Strahan sack eventually led Belichick to pass on a 49-yard field goal attempt.

And so, New York continued to hang around.

On first down at the Giants' own 20, Manning flipped a pass to rookie tight end Kevin Boss. Boss caught it at the 39 and, when safety Rodney Harrison missed the tackle, it was good -- very good -- for a 45-yard play. A few plays later, Manning threaded a perfect 5-yard pass through traffic to David Tyree, and the Giants, almost inexplicably, led 10-7 with 11:05 remaining.

It was Tyree's first touchdown of the season.

Naturally, the Patriots came back. Brady moved them down the field, throwing underneath more often than not. Then, on the 12th play of the drive, Brady hit his favorite receiver,

Randy Moss. The Giants elected to double Wes Welker inside and left cornerback

Corey Webster alone with Moss. When Webster tripped on his backpedal, Moss was wide open for a 7-yard touchdown on third-and-goal.

Manning, however, engineered a terrific drive as time ran down. The signature play: Manning, ducking and spinning, somehow avoided a severe rush, and Tyree managed to reel in a 33-yard catch -- he initially pinned the ball on his helmet with one hand -- giving New York the ball at the New England 24-yard line. With 35 seconds left, Manning hit Burress with a gorgeous 25-yard touchdown pass, and the Pats' perfect season had congealed, horribly, into the twisted wreckage of a shocking loss.

The Patriots started their final drive on their own 26 with 29 seconds left, but Brady had no magic to offer. Two incomplete passes and a sack preceded the final chance, with 10 seconds left. A long, long pass to Moss fell incomplete, and the crowd went absolutely berserk.

For two weeks, the focus was on the Patriots and their date with destiny. Few outside the locker room in East Rutherford, N.J., gave the Giants much of a chance.

So much for perfection. The Giants will take a little something less.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.