While the Patriots' defense surrendered the final score of their 21-17 defeat, their offensive unit made too many mistakes to overcome. It started early and remained the case at the very end.
Quarterback Tom Brady made a poor choice to unload the ball to nowhere out of the end zone on the team's first offensive snap of the game, resulting in an intentional grounding penalty, a safety and a quick 2-0 deficit. More costly, it allowed the Giants to run 19 of the first 20 plays of the game and build a 9-0 lead in the process. The Patriots didn't run their second offensive play until there was 3:18 remaining in the first quarter.
"We had too many errors and too many mistakes, and when you make mistakes early on, they catch up to you later in the game," tight end Aaron Hernandez said.
Granted, New England's defense wasn't exactly perfect during the Giants' two touchdown drives, but if Brady knew he only needed 22 points to win his fourth Super Bowl, he would have taken it every day of the week and 100 out of 100 times on Sunday.
The Patriots only had the ball for 22 minutes, 55 seconds over nine possessions. They didn't gain a first down on three of their offensive series, and really, they were largely subpar outside of their back-to-back touchdown drives.
That was the strange thing. Brady, who completed a Super Bowl-record 16 consecutive passes at one point, was brilliant on the bookend drives around halftime. He was 10-for-10 during the final possession of the half, and his touchdown toss to Danny Woodhead gave the Patriots a 10-9 lead. Had the Patriots won Super Bowl XLVI, that drive would have been one of the greatest of Brady's career.
He kept it going to start the second half, when Hernandez (eight receptions, 67 yards, one touchdown) continued his hot pace and scored to extend the lead to 17-9. At that point, it looked like the Patriots were ready to blow the roof off Lucas Oil Stadium.
"We were just rolling there," tight end Rob Gronkowski said. "We were executing well late in the second quarter, and Aaron made a great play and got a touchdown. We've got to be rolling like that all four quarters."
But that was the end of it — the final points Brady and the offense would post all season. In their final four possessions, the Patriots gained 93 total yards on 27 plays (3.4 yards per play). Brady also made another poor choice to heave up a jump ball to Gronkowski, who couldn't peel back in time to break up linebacker Chase Blackburn's interception. Credit Brady for trying to let Gronkowski make a play, but such a risk shouldn't happen in a 17-15 game in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
"You always wish you could have done a little bit more," Brady said. "When you win, it's great. When you lose, you rehash the game and certainly think about the things that we could have done better. I wish we could have made a few more plays."
As such, the offense put the pressure on the defense, which yielded a touchdown to the Giants' superior unit in the final minute.
Brady had one more chance, but the Patriots needed to be perfect in that situation and it just wasn't in the cards. Deion Branch dropped a deflected pass over the middle of the field, but Brady could have led his receiver better, which might have translated into a huge gain.
That was the Patriots' best chance in their final gasp for glory, but again, the results weren't there. That was the difference between the Giants' confetti-filled, on-field celebration and the Patriots' empty feeling as they slowly cleaned out their lockers.
"It was all about what we were going to do on offense," Branch said. "We want to be consistent, but it just wasn't enough [Sunday]. That was that."
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