This time, ineptitude outlasted luck.
If the New York Giants hoped to serve notice that the New England Patriots won’t be allowed to tear through the entirety of the NFL this season with the ease of a Ginsu knife through tomato cans, at least they came closer than anyone else has gotten to making that point.
They had their chance, complete with what seemed to be another receiver’s dagger into the hearts of Patriots fans when Giants quarterback Eli Manning hooked up with Dwayne Harris for a 30-yard reception late in the fourth quarter. The Giants were trailing by just one point, needing only a field goal to seal yet another heart-stopping loss against their AFC rivals to the north.
This was David Tyree. It was Mario Manningham.
And then, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin turned the moment into a stage better set for Mike Martz.
In what was the best regular-season game of the 2015 season, bar none, the 9-0 Patriots survived a clash that appeared to be going down the same horror show road as their previous two Super Bowl matchups against the Giants, both losses, heartbreaking ones.
This time, Stephen Gostkowski had the right kicking recipe for the soul, nailing a 54-yard-field goal in the final seconds of play to lift New England to a 27-26 win. That kick and the preceding drive came during precious time awarded to the Patriots by the boneheaded clock management of the Giants coaching staff leading up to the two-minute warning.
“That was quite a game. There so many elements to it back and forth,’’ New England head coach Bill Belichick said. “In the end, our guys made the plays they needed to make.’’
This was a game worthy of a Super Bowl, a spot Patriots fans have to already be biting their nails about seeing the 5-5 Giants in come February. This wasn’t the sort of regular-season game the Patriots are used to these days, a down-to-the-wire contest with more stress than a day supervising Kindercare. The fact that it was the Giants — the same Giants who denied New England perfection in the climactic moments of the 2007 season, and stole another banner away from the Krafts a few years later — who came so close to staining the Patriots’ spotless start to this season made the game all the more satisfying and exasperating, leaving New England in a collective state of Puritan exhaustion.
“It took every last second,’’ said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “Proud of our team and the way we fought, but we can do some things better.’’
Once again, it seemed Brady (26-of-42 passing, two touchdowns, one interception) was going to have to call the Giants his “Daddy,’’ especially after the Patriots fell into an offensive funk after losing wide receiver Julian Edelman to injury.
Seriously, how much can they withstand? Only one week after losing dynamic running back Dion Lewis for the season with a torn ACL, Brady and Co. spent most of Sunday’s game without the energizing and elusive Edelman, the New England wide receiver who was on his way to leading the way for the Patriots with four catches for 55 yards. Edelman left the game after hurting his foot on the last play of the first quarter, and the Patriots’ offense went from getting into a rhythm, to spending the bulk of the next two quarters doing “the robot,’’ stiff and uncoordinated.
Then, we got Fourth Quarter Tom Brady. And this was a much different Fourth Quarter Tom Brady than we’d seen in the previous Super Bowl matchups vs. the Giants. With the Giants leading, 26-24, and 1:47 remaining on the clock, Brady drove the Patriots 44 yards for a game-winning score, including completing a fourth-and-10 on the series. It was vintage Brady.
Oh, it was also almost a throwback to that game in Feburary 2008, particularly when Giants free safety Landon Collins nearly picked Brady off on his first pass of the drive, a terribly under thrown ball intended for Aaron Dobson, of all people.
“We didn’t play our best, but we made enough plays in the end,’’ Brady said. “A lot of game-changing plays. I’m glad we came out on top. We fought to the end.’’
To deny the Patriots due credit for this win would be foolhardy, particularly after Malcom Butler put himself on the big boy secondary stage with his coverage of star receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. It was a game in which Gostkowski should finally have shut up anyone still critical of the team for making him the most expensive kicker in the NFL, and one when Brady came up big yet again, even though he was throwing behind an offensive line better resembling Acton-Boxborough’s starting five.
But, jeez, did the Giants give this game away.
There was 2:14 remaining in the game after Manning hooked up with Harris. The catch set up a first-and-10 play at the New England 28-yard-line. The Giants ran the ball once after that. Even though they nearly scored the game-winning touchdown on the (rightly) reversed call on Beckham Jr.’s near catch in the end zone, the daft clock management was something of a godsend for Belichick, who had been done in one too many times by Coughlin, his former coaching mate.
Giants kicker Josh Brown nailed the go-ahead field goal with 1:50 remaining.
That left too much time for Brady and Gostkowski, especially with luck so due to run in their favor instead.
It was another classic against the New York Giants, one Patriots fans will be happy to remember.
Add Julian Edelman to the list of significant Boston sports injuries