Well… crap. Just like four years ago, the New England Patriots came up just a couple plays short of beating the New York Giants and claiming their fourth Lombardi Trophy Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI. Instead, Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning once again bested Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, with Manning executing yet another fourth-quarter comeback highlighted by an improbable reception. Brady’s quest to tie Joe Montana and Bradshaw continues.
The Patriots under-performed on their last test of the season. Which Patriots will get credit and which are now on academic probation? Here’s the last report card until September.
Brady wasn’t terrible, completing just over 65 percent of his passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, but he definitely wasn’t at his best. His line gave him all kinds of protection, but he still had trouble hitting his receivers. Wes Welker should have caught that second-and-11 late in the game, but Brady could have thrown a much easier pass, one that didn’t require Welker to simultaneously spin around, leap into the air and haul in a ball barely within his range.
Brady occasionally gets lost inside his own mind, seeing diagrams of plays instead of the actual field. His deep-ball interception is a perfect example. On paper, Rob Gronkowski would out-jump a linebacker every time. But the real Gronkowski couldn’t run or jump with that high-ankle sprain Sunday, yet Brady tried to bomb it to him anyway. Chase Blackburn hauled picked it, squandering yet another second-half drive that could have extended the Patriots’ lead beyond one possession.
Brady only played above-average football (including the bone-headed if oddly penalized safety), while Manning played spectacular football, especially in the second half. The better quarterback took home the title.
Running Backs: B+
Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combined for 62 yards on the ground, plus 57 more in the air. Woodhead proved incredibly useful on check-down passes and screens, either running through the defensive line or lining up outside it. He also caught the Patriots’ first touchdown – a bullet from Brady that required as much concentration to catch in traffic as it did to throw.
The Patriots’ rushers did enough to make play-action viable some of the time, but not always. Not having Gronkowski at full strength likely affected that play’s success.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C+
Four consecutive dropped passes. Four. Had Welker or Deion Branch caught theirs on second- and third-and-11, the Patriots probably win the game. Had Branch or Aaron Hernandez caught theirs on the final drive, the Patriots preserve a timeout and probably get at least a better chance at the Hail Mary. Instead, the Patriots had to try a 50-yard bomb, which is a tough sell for any offense.
Brady’s decent pass-protection meant much of the passing game’s failure must rest with his receivers not getting open. Hernandez and Welker had to deal with extra coverage because of Gronkowski, and they couldn’t handle the extra pressure. Of all the position groups on the team, the receiving corps under-performed the most.
Offensive Line: A-
Only allowing two sacks (both in the second half) to a pass-rush as relentless as the Giants’ deserves high marks. The offensive line did as much as they could to buy Brady time, but the offense just never synchronized outside the line of scrimmage. The offensive line didn’t quite establish the run the way they should have, however, and Brian Waters committed a holding penalty, bringing down the line’s final grade.
Defensive Line: B+
The offensive line combined for 2.5 sacks and three QB hits. Mark Anderson led with 1.5. But of the three sacks the Patriots recorded overall, two came on the Giants’ first drive. After that, Manning enjoyed all kinds of protection. More pressure on Manning could have protected the Patriots’ secondary a little, but that’s been a complaint all season long.
The defensive line also gave up 114 rushing yards (plus a touchdown they purposefully allowed).
Beyond Rob Ninkovich‘s half-sack and two QB hits, the linebackers were almost invisible Sunday. Manning only targeted tight ends seven times, but he connected six times. Jerod Mayo could have intercepted Manning’s first touchdown pass, but instead he whiffed completely and the Giants went up 9-0. And while he and Brandon Spikes led the team with 11 tackles each, none were for losses.
Ninkovich also jumped off-sides on a third-and-7, making the conversion much easier.
Defensive Backs: B+
Sterling Moore represented himself well, batting aside two passes and making several key stops. And it’s hard to fault the defense when it had to play over 60 percent of the game. Still, Manning threw for 296 yards, and the secondary couldn’t get themselves together for one more stop late in the fourth.
The secondary played at or above what it’s played at all season long, so they shouldn’t lose points they could never have earned in the first place. But given one last chance to make any kind of statement, the defensive backs once again fell silent.
Special Teams: A-
Stephen Gostkowski nailed his only field goal, and no one committed any special teams penalties. But Giants punter Steve Weatherford easily out-performed Zoltan Mesko, three times pinning the Patriots inside their 10. The Giants started their average drive (discounting the one following the interception) over 10 yards ahead of the Patriots, making scoring all the more difficult for the Patriots.
New England didn’t lose because of special teams, but they could still have done more.