Manning, Giants heading to Indy to face Pats again
DENNIS WASZAK Jr.,AP Sports Writer
Hey, Indianapolis. A Manning will be playing in your Super Bowl, after all.
No, not that one.
It'll be Eli Manning leading the New York Giants to a Super Bowl rematch against the New England Patriots — and this time on older brother Peyton's home field.
"It doesn't matter to me where you're playing it or the fact that it's in Indianapolis," Eli Manning said. "I'm just excited about being in one."
And if the Giants can pull this one off, Eli will have sibling bragging rights with one more Super Bowl ring than Peyton, who missed this season for the Colts after having neck surgery.
It sure won't be easy for the Giants, though. Four years after New York stunned previously undefeated New England in the Arizona desert, they'll play a Super sequel.
Eli vs. Brady. Coughlin vs. Belichick. The Giants vs. the Patriots.
Sound familiar? Here we go again.
"It's awesome and we look forward to the challenge," Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "They are a great football team. They have always been a great football team. We are looking forward to it, and it's going to be a great game."
Well, judging from the last time these teams met in the Super Bowl — David Tyree's jaw-dropping, helmet-pinning catch and all — it just might be.
"Being in this situation is a great moment," Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "You have to cherish this moment."
New England (15-3) opened as a 3-point favorite for the Feb. 5 game against New York (12-7), but the Patriots know all about being in this position. They were favored by 12 points and pursuing perfection in 2008, but New York's defense battered Brady, and Manning connected with Plaxico Burress on a late touchdown to win the Giants' third Super Bowl.
That TD came, of course, a few moments after one of the biggest plays in playoff history: Manning escaping the grasp of Patriots defenders and finding Tyree, who put New York in scoring position by trapping the football against his helmet.
"Hopefully, we will have the same result," Umenyiora said. "We still have one more game to go, but this is truly unbelievable."
Especially since the Giants appeared on the verge of collapsing with Tom Coughlin's job status in jeopardy just a month ago, when they fell to 7-7 with an embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 18.
"We've been here before," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said at the time, "and we'll get back."
Boy, was he right.
The Giants were facing elimination against the rival Jets and Rex Ryan, who boldly declared that his team ruled New York. Well, Coughlin's crew silenced Ryan with a 29-14 victory. The Giants followed that with a 31-14 win over Dallas in the regular-season finale to clinch the NFC East and get to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season.
New York dominated Atlanta at home in the opening round. Then came a stunner: a 37-20 victory at Green Bay — knocking out the defending Super Bowl champions.
On Sunday, Manning extended the best season of his career with one more solid performance, and Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants past the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 in overtime for the NFC title.
"I'm just proud of the guys, what we've overcome this year, what we've been through," Manning said, "just never having any doubts, keep believing in our team that we could get hot and start playing our best football."
The Patriots are rolling into the Super Bowl having won 10 straight, with their last loss being to — you guessed it — the Giants, 24-20 back in early November.
"We know they're a great team," Manning said. "We played them already this year. They've been playing great football recently."
They sure have. And now Brady and the Patriots are in familiar territory, playing in the Super Bowl for the fifth time in 11 years — and first since the stunning upset in Arizona.
New England hopes to avoid all that sort of drama this time around. Unless it goes in the Patriots' favor, as it did in the AFC title game.
Brady was unusually subpar in the Patriots' 23-20 victory over Baltimore, throwing for 239 yards with two interceptions and, for the first time in 36 games, no TD passes. But he got some help from the Patriots' much-maligned defense, which made some crucial stops down the stretch.
A few mistakes by the Ravens helped greatly, too, as Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds left — soon after Lee Evans had a potential winning touchdown catch ripped out of his hands in the end zone.
"Childlike joy. It's all about childlike joy," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "Last night felt like the day before Christmas for me and I haven't had that feeling in a long time."
New England last won the Super Bowl in 2005, a long drought considering that the Patriots took home Lombardi trophies three times in four years. There are only a handful of players left from that team, with guys like Corey Dillon, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison replaced by young up-and-comers such as Mayo, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
"It doesn't even feel right, especially playing with the veterans here," Gronkowski said. "I watched them go to the Super Bowl as I was growing up, and now I'm part of it? It is an unreal moment."
The constants, though, are Brady and Bill Belichick. And that's been a winning combination for New England, combining to become the first QB-coach combination to win five conference championships in the Super Bowl era.
Belichick did perhaps his finest coaching job this season, piecing together a defense that ranked second-to-last in the league during the regular season. That led to plenty of shootouts, and Brady was more than up to the task, throwing for a career-high 5,235 yards while tossing 39 touchdown passes.
"They're an amazing team," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "They're a great brotherhood; they're a family."
And they're all looking to lift another Super Bowl trophy together. Patriots-Giants. One more time.