Those are just some of the words that floated around in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVI, a game dubbed a rematch of Super Bowl XLII.
The Patriots were quick to dismiss the idea that 2008’s Super Bowl loss to the Giants had any bearing on this year’s clash, but as Sunday’s game progressed, it seemed like we were all along for a ride in Marty McFly’s DeLorean.
For a game played four years later, with a number of new players on each side and plenty of other differing factors involved, the game started playing out eerily similar to that Super Bowl XLII upset.
Tom Brady marched the Patriots down the field with a 96-yard drive in the waning moments of the second quarter on Sunday, giving New England a 10-9 halftime edge — an edge that Brady’s offense eventually increased to 17-9 following a lengthy (and extremely bizarre) halftime performance. But from then on, it was as if the stars realigned over Lucas Oil Stadium to reflect the same scene from the University of Phoenix Stadium on Feb. 3, 2008.
With a five-point edge and the ball, Brady was sacked by Justin Tuck on third-and-eight. The Pats lost two yards and went three-and-out, sending the momentum in the Giants’ favor. Tuck also dropped Brady on the final drive of the game, proving that it may have been four years, but the Giants’ defensive line — and Tuck, in particular — still has New England’s number. Tuck sacked Brady twice in the 2008 Super Bowl, as well.
The Giants hit the New England signal-caller eight times total this time around. It wasn’t quite the bruising effort of the previous Super Bowl showdown, but it certainly did the trick and represented a common theme between the two games, as Brady was forced to slide around the pocket on a number of occasions.
Beyond that, though, a number of specific plays from Sunday’s game screamed 2008. Or at least Patriots fans in barrooms across New England probably had such flashbacks.
Chase Blackburn‘s interception, in which he outjumped Rob Gronkowski to haul in Brady’s deep prayer, showed once again that Brady will actually turn the ball over if pressured. It was similar to Tuck’s forced fumble right before the half in 2008, when Brady coughed the ball up on the Giants’ 44 in the final minute, potentially taking points off the board.
Turnovers are always costly, but they’re particularly disheartening when you’re clinging to a lead on the sport’s biggest stage.
Following that Blackburn interception — which was very David Tyree-like, given the linebacker’s positioning on Gronkowski and the tight end’s inability to jar it loose from Blackburn (a la Rodney Harrison on Tyree) — things got really interesting.
The Giants punted on the ensuing possession, but the game already was heading down a path similar to 2008’s Super Bowl. That was all but confirmed by Wes Welker‘s dropped pass late in the fourth.
With about four minutes remaining in the game, Welker was uncovered up the left seam, giving the always-reliable receiver a chance to reel in a big catch for what could have been a 25-30 yard gain. More importantly, the catch would have given the Patriots a first down, thus allowing them to milk the clock some more before potentially tacking on additional points. The ball bounced off Welker’s outstretched hands, though, eventually forcing New England to punt after the ensuing, failed third-down conversion attempt.
Rather than going to work in the red zone with a running clock, the Patriots gave Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense their chance — a chance they wouldn’t relinquish.
Watching that ball deflect off Welker’s hands immediately brought to mind Asante Samuel‘s dropped interception in Super Bowl XLII. Sure, Welker’s came with more time on the clock and on the offensive side of the ball, but the miscue had that same “this is going to cost us” aura. And following the game, that Welker play — like Samuel’s dropped pick — left New Englanders instantly wondering, “if only.”
New York’s ensuing offensive drive also produced a growing sense that someone else on the Giants was going to step up — perhaps an unlikely source. In other words, who would play the role of Tyree and make a big play during New York’s final possession?
We soon learned that the honor belonged to Mario Manningham, whose 38-yard, over-the-shoulder grab along the New England sideline drew similar oohs and ahhs. Bill Belichick challenged the play to no avail despite having a front-row seat for it (literally a foot away).
“I didn’t have that much room,” Manningham said after the game. “Good thing I wore 11 because if I’d have wore 11 1/2’s, I don’t think I would have been in.”
After the Giants moved down near the goal line, poised to set themselves up for another Lawrence Tynes game-winning field goal this postseason, the Patriots elected to sacrifice the lead and let Ahmad Bradshaw score in order to preserve some time for Brady and the offense, which also had the luxury of one timeout.
The move was understandable, and the correct decision by Belichick, but the outlook was clearly grim for the Pats, much like it was following Manning’s touchdown strike to Plaxico Burress in ’08. The idea of a loss started to settle in at that point, although the football gods would ensure one more stake would be driven through the hearts of Patriots fans.
Just as Randy Moss nearly hauled in a deep chuck from Brady in the closing moments in Phoenix, which would have given New England new life, Gronkowski nearly caught a deflection in the end zone on Brady’s last-second Hail Mary attempt in Indy. Neither of those plays were high percentage, but both had that “oh so close” feel, even if they weren’t really that close.
The Patriots emphasized after Sunday’s game that they simply didn’t make enough plays, while the Giants did. That’s the same recipe that doomed New England’s perfect season in 2008, and it once again did the Pats in this time around.
In many ways, the game was expected to go down like this if the Giants were able to emerge victorious, with the G-Men coming out on top in a nail-biter. However, had you told most Patriots fans that the parallels between 2008’s heartbreak and this year’s downfall would be so uncanny, they’d likely faint.
The thought of Eli Manning bettering Tom Brady in the biggest game in sports twice is wild enough. The idea of it happening in stunningly similar fashion each time is nearly unfathomable. But it’s that mystique, that unpredictability and that colossal gap between euphoria and devastation in sports that makes you love it some days and hate it others.
Patriots fans hoped to be on the more positive end of that spectrum on Sunday, because after all, it’s been seven years. However, we quickly learned that the old adage still holds true from time to time: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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