GLENDALE, Ariz. - The team that had been deified proved mortal when it mattered most.
In one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, the New York Giants shocked the previously perfect Patriots, 17-14, last night in Super Bowl XLII in front of 71,101 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium.
New England (18-1) picked an awful time for its first loss of the season. Now the records, the 16-0 regular season, the individual awards, the All-Pro recognition, all ring hollow without a Super Bowl ring.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the left corner of the end zone from 13 yards out with 35 seconds left to cap an 83-yard drive and keep the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only NFL team to complete a perfect season. Burress, who had predicted a Giants victory and had been ridiculed, proved prescient when he beat Ellis Hobbs for the decisive score.
"We set high expectations, now we go down as 18-1, and that is one big zit," said Hobbs. "It is one big blemish. We choked. We choked at the end."
The Patriots appeared primed to make history when Tom Brady hit Randy Moss for a 6-yard touchdown on third and goal with 2:42 remaining to make it 14-10, New England. Trailing, 10-7, and getting the ball at his 20 with 7:54 to go, Brady was at his brilliant best.
Shaking off a pass rush that sacked him a season-high five times and a right ankle that hobbled and hindered him, Brady (29 of 48 for 266 yards and a touchdown) went 8 of 11 for 71 yards on the drive to put the Patriots back in the lead.
He began the march with a 5-yard pass to Wes Welker, who tied the Super Bowl record for receptions with 11 for 103 yards, and ended it with the pass to Moss.
On the sideline veteran linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau hugged after Moss scored, but the joy was short-lived, like the Patriots' lead.
Manning (19 of 34 for 255 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 interception, Super Bowl MVP) more than matched the heroics of Brady on the winning drive, and he had company. On third and 5 from the Giants' 44, after an incredible Manning scramble, David Tyree made a huge leaping grab over Rodney Harrison for a 32-yard gain to put the Giants in New England territory.
Few saw the imperfect ending to the perfect season coming. The Patriots had beaten the Giants, 38-35, during the teams' regular-season meeting to improve to 16-0, and few thought this game would be any different.
"The biggest thing is to win the championship at the end of the year," said Moss. "All that we did, that undefeated regular season, it didn't mean nothing because we didn't close it at the end."
History and the game hung in the balance as the Patriots led, 7-3, entering the fourth quarter.
After each team had scored on its first possession of the game, there was a paucity of points until Manning hit Tyree for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 11:05 remaining, giving New York a 10-7 lead. The 33-minute, 52-second scoreless stretch was the longest in Super Bowl history.
"Their front four really set the tone for four quarters," said Moss. "I think their secondary was ordinary, not taking anything from them. They don't have Pro Bowlers, but they do play good together. They had a good game plan."
In the first half the Patriots hardly played like one of the greatest teams in NFL history, leading, 7-3, at intermission.
Brady was constantly harassed by the rush and was sacked three times, the last of which, by Justin Tuck, resulted in a fumble that gave the Giants the ball back at the New England 49 with 10 seconds left in the half and prevented the Patriots from adding to their lead.
Brady's ankle appeared to prevent him from avoiding the rush, although he said the injury wasn't a factor. Moss said he couldn't tell if Brady was affected.
"I couldn't really tell, all I know was I heard the fans screaming and when I looked back he was down," said Moss.
The Giants, who outgained the Patriots, 139 yards to 81, in the half, were equally unimpressive in their execution. New York was inside the New England 30 three times, but only had 3 points to show for it.
The Giants took the opening kickoff, played keep-away for 9 minutes 59 seconds, then settled for a 3-0 lead on a 32-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes, capping a 16-play, 63-yard drive that was the longest time-wise in Super Bowl history.
But the lead didn't last long. The Patriots went up, 7-3, on the first play of the second quarter, as Laurence Maroney, who had given the Patriots excellent field position with a 43-yard kick return, ducked in from the 1 on second and goal.
One of the hallmarks of the Giants' playoff run had been ball security. New York had not turned the ball over on offense during the postseason and had gone 34 possessions, dating to its regular-season loss to the Patriots, without an offensive turnover. In that game, Hobbs intercepted Manning in the fourth quarter.
Hobbs did the honors again in the second quarter last night. On third and 5 from the New England 14, Hobbs scooped up a Manning pass that Steve Smith let slip through his hands at the 10, and he returned it to the 33.
However, the Patriots couldn't capitalize, as Maroney was stopped for a 2-yard loss on third and 1 from the New England 42.
At 9:22 of the second, at the Giants' 30, Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled a handoff and the Patriots' Pierre Woods appeared to recover the ball. But Bradshaw flipped Woods over and somehow came up with the ball, costing New England a great chance.
The most bizarre play of the half happened after the Giants, behind the hard running of Brandon Jacobs and Bradshaw, moved to the New England 25 with 2:31 left. Adalius Thomas strip-sacked Manning on third and 4 and Bradshaw batted the loose ball forward, with Smith recovering for a first down. But Bradshaw's bat was illegal, and the penalty took the Giants out of field goal range.
In the third quarter, after an illegal substitution penalty against the Giants, the Patriots moved the ball to the New York 25, but following a sack they came up empty, and coach Bill Belichick elected to go for it on fourth and 13 from the New York 31. Brady pumped twice before throwing the ball out of the end zone.
After Burress backed up his prediction with a play that will live on NFL Films highlight reels for eternity, the Patriots had one final chance to write a perfect ending, getting the ball at their 26 with 35 seconds left. But on fourth and 20 from their 16, Brady couldn't connect with Moss (five catches for 62 yards and the score) on one last deep ball and the Giants had a historic victory of their own.
Belichick shook hands with his Giants counterpart, Tom Coughlin, but Belichick wasn't on the sideline when the Giants took a knee to secure the upset.
"I don't rank them. It's disappointing," said Belichick.
"I think a lot of people didn't really even want us to win this game," said Moss. "We'll come back. Don't worry about that. It hurts that there is not a next week. The season's over. We'll look forward to minicamp."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.