GLENDALE, Ariz. - There'll be no Hub parade on Super Tuesday. No commemorative books about "Path to Perfection." In New England, the church bells all are broken.
Two-touchdown favorites and touted as possibly the greatest football team of all time, the Patriots were beaten by the New York Giants, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII last night at University of Phoenix Stadium. An 18-0 season dissolved when New York's Eli Manning found Plaxico Burress in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left.
The Patriots lost the Super Bowl. It is an alternate universe. It does not compute. It's like hearing Tony Bennett singing, "I Left My Heart in Ashtabula," or seeing a photo of Mitt Romney with his hair messed up.
Shocking. This was supposed to be the coronation for Bill Belichick's History Boys. They were the only 18-0 team in league history and they were poised to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only NFL teams to finish undefeated.
Not quite. The '72 Dolphins are still safe. The Patriots were beaten. The Patriots blew a lead in the final minute. This time, the Patriots ran off the field while the confetti rained down on the other guys. For the first time in a long time, it is the New England fans suffering agita.
"It's disappointing," acknowledged Belichick, who shook hands with Giants coach Tom Coughlin and left the field while there was still one second left. "They made some plays. In the end, they made a couple more than we did."
It looked as if the Patriots would win a fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons when Tom Brady - he of the stardust-sprinkled shoulder pads - once again came through in the clutch late in the fourth quarter. With New England trailing, 10-7, Brady drove the Patriots 80 yards in 12 plays, capping the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss with 2:42 left. Brady completed eight of 11 passes on the drive and was battling Wes Welker for MVP honors when Manning and friends shredded the Patriot defense for the winning score. Ellis Hobbs was badly beaten on Burress's touchdown catch.
"We had a great season, we just didn't win the game," said Brady, who appeared less then 100 percent healthy, but would not make excuses regarding injury. "Tonight doesn't take away from anything we have done over the course of the season. It's just unfortunate that tonight turned out the way it did."
New England's memorable season stretched across all four quadrants of the calendar. The Patriots started winning in late summer heat, annihilated opponents in autumnal fury, remained unbeaten through the bone-cold winter, then let it get away one week before the start of spring training. Red Sox pitchers and catchers report Feb. 14.
It was clear the Patriots were not playing their best football at the finish. Brady was far from perfect in the flawed finale and spent a good part of the Super Bowl on his back.
The game was played under a translucent fabric roof and a dark cloud as rumors and calls for new investigations swirled around the Patriots. Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, ignited the latest controversy late last week, asking why the NFL destroyed tapes from September's Spygate incident. Over the weekend it was reported that, according to an anonymous source, the Patriots illegally taped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough the day before Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans six years ago. The Patriots vehemently denied the new allegation.
The Giants, clad in white jerseys, were first to emerge from the tunnel and were roundly cheered by the crowd of 71,101. Brady and Tedy Bruschi led the Patriots onto the field. Belichick looked splendid in his red hoodie.
New York won the coin flip (tails), took the kickoff, and controlled the ball for almost a whopping 10 minutes (16 plays) before settling for a 32-yard field goal from Lawrence Tynes. This meant that Brady and friends didn't touch the football until the 11th minute of play.
The Patriots got good field position on the ensuing kickoff thanks to a 43-yard kickoff return by Laurence Maroney. From there, Brady orchestrated a 12-play, 56-yard drive resulting in a 1-yard touchdown run by Maroney on the first play of the second quarter. There would be no more scoring until the final quarter.
The Patriots led, 7-3, when Manning connected with tight end Kevin Boss on a 45-yard pass in the first minute of the final quarter. Five plays later, Manning hit David Tyree with a 5-yard touchdown pass to give the Giants a 10-7 lead.
As always, Brady came through down the stretch, but for once he was forced to watch while the other guy play Superman. Manning and the Giants took over with 2:42 left. The play of the game came when Manning scrambled out of a jam on third and 5 from his 44. He lobbed a ball over the middle and Tyree made a spectacular grab, outjumping Rodney Harrison for a 32-yard gain. The ensuing TD pass to Burress (the man who boldly predicted victory for New York) put the Giants in the lead with only 35 seconds left.
Brady made a series of desperation heaves in the closing seconds - almost completing one to Moss. But the Patriots turned it over on downs with one second left.
No perfection. Just a painful playing of "New York, New York" while the Giants celebrated and the Patriots packed for the long trip home.