CALL IT THE RELUCTANT TOUCHDOWN. AHMAD BRADSHAW'S awkward and unwilling flop into the end zone is part of Super Bowl lore now—there with Montana to Rice, David Tyree's helmet catch, Lynn Swann's ballet, Mike Jones's tackle one-yard shy. The situation was this: New York trailed New England by two points with one minute, four seconds left. The Giants were on the Patriots' six-yard line—it would be a 23-yard field goal from there. Lawrence Tynes, the New York kicker, had not missed an attempt of less than 30 yards in two years. New England had only one timeout left, meaning the Giants were essentially set up to take the lead with about 20 seconds left; a New York victory was all but assured.
Then we had perhaps the strangest play in Super Bowl history—a touchdown the runner didn't want to score, a touchdown designed by the defensive coach, the Reluctant Touchdown, which gave the Giants a 21--17 victory and capped a dramatic, exciting and, for New York, highly fulfilling Super Bowl. What can you say? These are complicated times.
WE HAD EXPECTED AN EXTRAVAGANZA—TWO great offenses, two statistically challenged defenses, a fast track under a roof. Points! Touchdowns!
So why didn't we get a free-for-all? It's hard to explain. Both quarterbacks—Tom Brady and Eli Manning—had good days. There wasn't too much pressure on either of them for most of the game. Both teams ran the ball pretty well. There was only one turnover in the game, an interception thrown by Brady way downfield.
Things just seemed to happen ... and not happen. For instance, Brady's first play was a long pass down the middle of the field to nobody. He happened to be standing in his own end zone when he threw the ball under defensive pressure. That meant intentional grounding and a safety.
The Giants followed with a 78-yard drive. Manning hit all six of his passes, including a touchdown to Victor Cruz. Salsa dance! Yes, this was what we had expected. The Giants led 9--0. Brady looked confused or exhausted or, well, something throughout the first quarter. Maybe it just took him a while to unwind. He did get hot at the end of the half. He led the Patriots on a 96-yard drive. He hit all 10 of his passes. The Patriots led 10--9 at halftime.
Once again it felt as if the show were about to begin. Brady came out hot in the second half. He hit five more passes in a row and took New England on a 79-yard touchdown drive. The Patriots led 17--9. And then, for some reason, they would not score again for the rest of the game.
It was just weird. Maybe it came down to this: Both defenses seemed to follow the sound reasoning that their only shot was to prevent big plays. They were unwilling to blitz or take big chances. Both defenses leaned their backs against the ropes and covered up. There were no fumbles recovered by the other team. There weren't many passes broken up. Before the Giants' final drive there was not a single play of 25 yards or more. That was just the rhythm of this game.
Tynes kicked two third-quarter field goals, and with about nine minutes left in the game the Patriots still led 17--15. They had the ball, and it just felt as if they would put away the game. Brady completed a pass to Wes Welker, another to Danny Woodhead. Welker picked up a first down on an end-around. Brady completed a pass to Aaron Hernandez. There was less than five minutes left.