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The blame starts with Tom Brady

02.06.12 at 1:08 am ET
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In the end, Eli Manning outplayed Tom Brady on the biggest stage in professional sports.

Again.

Brady put up perfectly respectable numbers in Super Bowl XLVI — 27-of-41 for 276 yards and two TDs — but Eli was better when it mattered most.

Eli Manning owns the Patriots, which means he owns Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Plain and simple. Eli will never be Brady on a historical scale — though he punched a ticket to Canton on Sunday night — but I guarantee you there isn’t a Giants fan alive who would trade quarterbacks now.

Eli has a 2-0 Super Bowl head-to-head edge over the best quarterback of this era (and that’s as far as we can go with that, the title of Greatest of All Time isn’t going to be Brady’s; two losses to a less-than-immortal QB means Joe Montana can wait for the next guy to come along) and the coach of his generation (again, that’s it — two losses to a very good but not all-timer in Tom Coughlin ends any Vince Lombardi debate).

And these aren’t wins where he stayed out of the way and let the defense do its work. This isn’t Trent Dilfer. Eli Manning has led the Giants on two game-winning, fourth-quarter TD drives in insanely pressure-packed situations and has done it with almost incomprehensible calm. I’ll count the Tyree catch as half-fluke, half-skill, but the throw to Mario Manningham — forget the catch itself for a moment — was as good as you’ll ever see in that situation. Manning then competed four of his next five passes on the final drive, setting up Ahmad Bradshaw‘s bizarre TD rush. (And I was fine with the Patriots letting the Giants score there — does anyone doubt Eli would have completed a TD on the very next play if the Giants let him throw?)

In the fourth quarters of the two Super Bowl wins, Manning was a combined 19-of-29 for 268 yards and two TDs with zero interceptions. In the fourth quarter on Sunday, Tom Brady was 6-of-14 for 64 yards with an INT.

Look, Brady was Brady on exactly two drives — the 96-yard TD drive to close out the first half and the 79-yard drive to open the second half. He was 16-of-16 for 154 yards and two TDs on the two drives, just a master class in clock management, patience and accuracy. The rest of the game he was mediocre at best, 11-of-25 for 122 yards, no TDs and the poorly thrown INT intended for a clearly hobbled (no way he plays if that’s an October game, that was a four, five-week injury) Rob Gronkowski.

The Patriots defense already bailed Brady out in this postseason. Turns out twice was too big an ask. And, frankly, not even close to a fair one. The Patriots aren’t going to win Super Bowls scoring 14 and 17 points, as they’ve done in the two losses to the Giants. Brady to Hernandez for the second TD was with 11:20 left in the third quarter and they did not score another point for the final 26:20. That isn’t going to work. And that’s not on Bill O’Brien or Chad Ochocinco or Randy Moss or Deion Branch or Matt Light or any other offensive player involved in either loss.

Nope, the blame is always going to be on Brady. Fair or not, that’s how it goes and will always be the case. And when you win Super Bowls — even if the defense deserves at least as much credit; go back and watch that win over the Rams — you get the praise and the magazine covers and the monster contracts and the filet of supermodels.

There were a million things that happened after that had an impact on the final score — and, sure, I’ll count Madonna‘s embarrassing halftime show as one of them, how about we all just agree to buy Bridgestone tires if we can make these disasters go away? — but let’s not forget the inept safety Brady was responsible for on the first play from scrimmage. If Tony Romo or Mark Sanchez or a pre-Super Bowl Peyton Manning makes that decision we are blasting him for feeling the pressure or lacking the football IQ needed to get it done in February. That was an inexcusable play that had legitimate ramifications all the way through.

Wes Welker has been fitted and slapped with some goat horns. I’ll preface: Yes, he should have made that catch. Yes, I was shocked, stunned, baffled, all of the above and whatever else you’ve got when he dropped that fourth-quarter pass from Brady. And, yes, I think if he holds on to the ball the Patriots win the game (the Giants have just one timeout left, the Patriots would’ve been inside the NYG 30 with four minutes left, another first down would have almost closed it out). Welker has had a brilliant career and has been a terrific player for this franchise but he should take a hit here.

But that wasn’t a great throw by Brady. Welker was wide open — how did that happen? — and Brady had plenty of time. But the throw was behind Welker, looked to be to the wrong shoulder, forced Welker to have to twist to try and brig it in. Worth repeating, Welker has to make that catch. But Brady — trying to win his fourth Super Bowl, trying to avenge the worst loss of his career, trying to kick Joe Montana off the mountain — has to make a better throw. And Brady had another close out opportunity on the very next play but threw badly behind Deion Branch.

Fourth down, Patriots punt, Eli to Manningham on the first play of the drive and it’s 2008 all over again.

And a season that began with many — the line starts here — mocking Eli Manning for putting himself in Brady’s class ended with Eli Manning outclassing Brady in the final game of the season.

Again.

Read More: Eli Manning, Super Bowl XLVI, Tom Brady,
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