North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

2008 recap, part one – Tyree’s catch

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In a year most likely to be remembered for losses – on the stock market, of a home, etc – sports were not immune. And if anything, this year will be remembered for one big one, when the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl after a 16-0 regular season.

There were favourites going into the game, and early talk of a New York upset was taken lightly. The Giants had just squeaked into the playoffs and won close games against Dallas and Green Bay – the latter in overtime. Then Giants wideout Plaxico Burress predicted not only a Giants win, but a low scoring game (24-17), it was treated as joke. Tom Brady, for one, wondered why the Patriots weren’t spotted more points.

Vegas was spotting them more than a few points. On February first, the Patriots were 12 point favourites in some quarters. The money line on the Giants was a huge +325. And the over/under was 54 points. All indications were for a high scoring game – Tom Brady and Randy Moss had set scoring records throughout the season, as Brady finally had an elite receiver to throw to.

And through the playoffs – even the season itself – the Patriots were a juggernaut. They had not lost a game all season and only four of their wins were by less than a touchdown. They outscored everybody in the NFL by over 100 points and had the second best defence in the AFC (Indianapolis narrowly edged them out).

But Plaxico wasn’t that far off. The Giants won the game, 17 – 14, in what was one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. Overlooked, perhaps, was the week 17 game between the two teams, when the Patriots roared back from a 12 point deficit to win 38-35. There, the Giants showed that the Patriots were not an invincible team, one that could be beaten.

Using their defence to keep Moss and the Patriots running game at bay, the Giants were able to score early and led by a field goal after one. The Patriots answered back in the second and took the lead on a major early in the second quarter. The Giants had a chance to score later in the frame – a 3rd and four at New England’s 25 yard line – but nothing came of it.

After a scoreless third, the Giants had the ball on their own 20 yard line. Eli Manning, playing the game of his life, led an 80 yard drive that was capped with a short touchdown pass to David Tryee. 10-7 Giants.

But the Patriots weren’t out yet. Two series later, New England started a drive from their own 20 yard line. Making short, quick passes, Brady moved the Patriots downfield and wound down the clock. When the Patriots made it 14-10, there was just under three minutes to play. It was a script seemingly pulled from the other Patriot Super Bowl wins, when a late drive was what won.

And it was a late drive that won it. Starting at their 17, Eli Manning did almost nothing but throw the ball, challenging the Patriots secondary. It was halfway through this, on a third and five, that the most memorable moment of the game – and in retrospect, the year – happened.

Dropping back and under pressure, Manning was scrambling. Hands grabbed at him, pulling his jersey. A sack here, at midfield, this late in the game would be disastrous. But he dodged them and threw the ball up the middle, to a well-covered David Tyree.

The pass, given the circumstances (defence in his face, clock ticking down, the Super Bowl on the line), was well aimed; Tyree didn’t have to dive at it. But it was overthrown, sailing around Tyree’s head. Which was where he caught it. With one hand. While jumping.

Catching the ball and holding it against his helmet, pressing it there while he landed, Tyree moved the ball up, deep into Patriot territory, inside the 25 yard line. One of the best catches in football history, and perhaps the biggest since Jeffrey Mayer’s, this was the moment that’s engrained into memories about this Super Bowl.

But it was not a score, and the Giants would not score until later. Not until after Steve Smith made an 11 yard catch to keep the drive alive. Not until Plaxico Buress scored the game winner with :39 to play.

Three incomplete passes and one sack later, the game was over. 17-14 Giants. The upset was complete – and the Patriots dynasty looked in doubt. In the first game of the next season, Brady went down with an ACL injury and was gone for the year. Under backup QB Matt Cassell, the Patriots finished 11-5 but lost the division to Miami and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

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Written by M.

December 30, 2008 at 7:59 pm

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