INDIANAPOLIS -- With each agonizing spin of the football, slowly dropping to the ground, teasing, tantalizing, setting a world of football fan's hearts aflutter, a quarterback legacy was forming as the pull of gravity was doing its job.
When Tom Brady's Hail Mary pass hit the ground on the final play of Super Bowl XLVI Sunday night, it cemented what some have been saying for the past six months, and what the quarterback himself said last summer: You can't spell elite without E-L-I.
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Eli Manning doesn't have to play second fiddle at the family dinner table anymore.
He still isn't as good as brother Peyton, but what Eli can do to end any argument the two might have -- and as competitive as they are you know they have them -- is point to the family scoreboard.
Eli: Two rings. Peyton: One.
For the second time in five years, Manning used the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl to cement his place among the greats. This time, it was a nine-play, 88-yard drive that culminated with a 6-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw for a 21-17 lead, which turned out to be the final score when Brady's desperation pass fell to the ground as the clock expired.
It was the second time Manning outdueled one of the game's great passers in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl, earning his second Super Bowl MVP.
If that isn't Eli-te, what is?
"This isn't about one person," Manning said.
No, but a lot of the credit has to go to him. It always does for quarterbacks in the Super Bowl, especially guys who prove to be clutch in the fourth quarter.
Taking over at his own 12 with 3:46 left, Manning hit Mario Manningham for 38 yards on the longest pass play of the game. It was one of the few shots the Giants took because the Patriots played a soft Cover-2 scheme that kept the ball in front of their safeties.
The shot to Manningham was huge. It was a great throw and even better catch.
"You're not going to drive it 90 yards unless you take a shot," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said.
Manning dropped the ball into Manningham's arms as the safety was trying to get over. Manningham hauled in the pass, got both feet down, and the Giants were in business on the game-winning drive.
The design of the play is to Manning's right where Hakeem Nicks was running a corner route. But the safety cheated up and Manning came back to Manningham on the other side.
"I saw the safety cheated in a little bit and threw it down the sideline," Manning said. "When you're backed up, to get a 40-yard gain and get to the middle of the field there. That way we can pace ourselves a little bit, run the ball a little bit. It was a big, big, big-time play right there."
Manning then hit Manningham again for 18 yards and followed that with a 16-yard pass to Nicks to put the Giants in chip-shot field goal range. But the Patriots let the Giants score, setting up the chance for Brady's final-play Hail Mary.
|CBSSports.com Super Bowl Grades|
|New York Giants|
|Eli Manning set the tone with a 9-for-9 start and finished with a 30-of-40, 296-yard, one-TD effort, which included a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. The defense buckled down against the Patriots running game in the second half and they managed to foil a potential winning drive from Tom Brady.|
|By Alex Raskin|
|New England Patriots|
|The Patriots played good enough to win a championship -– for only eight minutes. Their impressive offensive run to close the first half and open the second half was nearly enough for a championship, but at the end of the day, the Giants receivers and Eli Manning were too much for the Patriots secondary.|
|By Paul Dehner Jr.|
The game-winning drive was Manning's 21st fourth-quarter game-winner. It was the second time he did it on the game's biggest stage. It was his seventh fourth-quarter comeback this season.
"His performance, coming down the stretch, was outstanding," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He is the guy who has done it for us all year. He is the guy who put us in position."
Said Nicks: "He's top in the game in clutch situations."
Manning finished 30 for 40 for 296 yards, with a touchdown and no picks. It was a different approach for him than most of this season. The Giants are normally a big-play passing team, but the Patriots made them be patient.
The soft-zone approach can sometimes frustrate a quarterback. But Manning seemed to be patient enough to check it down. The Giants also did the right thing to run the ball against that defense.
"They were very conservative to see if we would be patient," Gilbride said.
Bad quarterbacks panic in that situation. Great ones flourish, taking what they are given.
"They were trying to prevent us from hitting those deep plays," Manning said. "We moved the ball well. We just got to the red zone and had a tough time getting into the end zone."
The Giants had the ball for 37:05 to 22:55 for the Patriots, but could manage just two touchdowns, including a conceded score late in the game.
But they kept their wits about them and stayed in the game to enable Manning to perform his postseason magic again, in his house his brother, Peyton, built.
His teammates said he was cool in the huddle.
"He didn't say anything," Manningham said." We knew what it was going to come down to. We've been in that situation all year."
Now comes the debate: Is Eli truly elite like he said last summer?
When asked about that after the game, he shrugged it off, saying it's not a question for him.
No, it's a question for us.
And he just answered it with a second Super Bowl MVP.
Eli calls bragging rights at the Manning family get together -- at least for now.