RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
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Much like the last time the New England Patriots met the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, the Patriots were favored.
MONTAGNE: And the Giants won- 21-17. And much like that 2008 Super Bowl, this time the Giants also scored in the final moments to defeat the Patriots. NPR's Mike Pesca was at the game.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Sequels are rarely as compelling as the original, but this one was pretty good. Underdog faces an accomplished opponent, falls behind, but pulls it out in the last minute. Super Bowl XLVI didn't have a single miraculous catch like its predecessor four years earlier, nor was this incarnation of the Patriots team undefeated. They were just very good.
In fact, at one point in the game, early in the second half, they were record setting, as quarterback Tom Brady completed his 16th consecutive pass with this dart to Aaron Hernandez.
(SOUNDBITE OF SUPER BOWL XLVI)
PESCA: What neither Kevin Harlan, there on Westwood One Radio, nor anyone else in the stadium could know was that the extra point that followed the Hernandez touchdown would be the Patriots last point of the game.
The score was 17-15 Patriots when on the second play of the fourth quarter Brady fired the ball deep for the great but gimpy Rob Gronkowski. The Patriot tight end was clearly affected by a high ankle sprain and found himself covered far down the field by Chase Blackburn, a linebacker who wasn't signed by a team to start the season and was about to turn to substitute teaching. Instead he found himself vying for a jump ball in the Super Bowl. He takes it from there.
CHASE BLACKBURN: Once I - I kind of had the low position and I saw the ball was a little bit underthrown. I just tried to box him out and, you know, play basketball.
PESCA: It was the only turnover of the day. After a pair of punts, the Giants found themselves with four minutes left, down two, with the ball deep in their zone. The first play was an Eli Manning strike to Mario Manningham along the sideline. Patriot coach Bill Belichick was right on top of the play and immediately challenged the call. Manningham could have told him not to bother.
MARIO MANNINGHAM: I knew I was in. I knew I had a little bit of room to work with on the sideline, man. And I knew I was going to have to freeze my feet wherever I caught the ball at.
PESCA: And soon the Giants set about putting the Patriots on ice. They found themselves on New England's six yard line with about a minute to play. All they'd have to do was kill some time and kick a very makeable field goal to win the game.
This is where Patriot coach Bill Belichick stepped in. Rather than watch time and the season slip away, he radioed the play into his middle linebacker Jarrod Mayo. It didn't have a fancy name, just let them score.
JARROD MAYO: The play is to let them score and give our offense back the ball. You know, we were down - it put us down, what, five points. And we had a time out left. So the play is let them score.
PESCA: Many Giants, like guard Chris Snee didn't realize what was happening, until it happened.
CHRIS SNEE: When I saw it part like the Red Sea, obviously, I knew that that was their strategy.
PESCA: Eli manning actually yelled for running back Ahmad Bradshaw to stop before crossing the goal line, but he kind of tumbled into the end zone - a sheepish moment of backwards triumph.
Down four, the always-dangerous Tom Brady had a little more than a minute to work with, but could not connect with his receivers to pull this one out. That's the rule of sequels - Spiderman, Harry Potter, James Bond - the protagonist always wins. It was MVP Eli Manning's face on the poster. New York running back Brandon Jacobs says its time to elevate Eli.
BRANDON JACOBS: Does this make him the best quarterback in the National Football League? Drew Brees is a great quarterback. He's at home. Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback. He's at home. Tom Brady is a great quarterback. He's at home. Eli beat him twice.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
PESCA: The Giants won their second Super Bowl in five years. Both times, they snuck their way into the playoffs and then just never stopped winning.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, Indianapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.