New York and the New England Patriots return to the Super Bowl for the first time in four years, when Giants quarterback Eli Manning engineered one of the great fourth-quarter drives in NFL history to deny the Patriots a perfect season in a 17-14 victory in Super Bowl XLII in Arizona.
Not only have the Giants won five consecutive must-win games to reach Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5, Manning will be attempting to win his second Super Bowl ring by traveling to Indianapolis, where older brother Peyton is an icon. An icon with one ring and questions about whether he'll ever wear a Colts uniform again.
It could set the stage for the Patriots to be overshadowed as quarterback Tom Brady mounts an assault on the NFL record books.
Brady will appear in his fifth Super Bowl, tying John Elway for the most all-time among quarterbacks. And with a victory, Brady would bypass childhood hero Joe Montana for the NFL record with 17 career postseason victories. Brady is 16-5 in the playoffs with New England, while Montana was 14-5 with San Francisco and 2-2 with Kansas City.
Both teams will be battling for their fourth Super Bowl titles. The Giants have won 11 conference championships, including five since the 1970 merger, with victories in Super Bowls XXI, XXV and XLII. For the Patriots, it will be their sixth trip to the title game, with victories in Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX.
"The taste and the victory and the whole nine (yards). When you get an opportunity to do (the Super Bowl) again — it's incredible," Patriots left tackle Matt Light said. "It's an incredible feeling. It will take a while to sink in that we're going and then it will be a heck of a week of preparation as always, but this is what we fought hard for all year to have an opportunity to get to the Super Bowl. We'll see how it goes from there."
Brady, who has locked horns with Peyton Manning numerous times over the years, has seen enough comebacks between the Manning brothers to last a lifetime. Back on Nov. 6, Eli Manning drove the Giants 80 yards on eight plays and threw a touchdown pass to tight end Jake Ballard with 15 seconds left in a 24-20 victory, snapping Brady's 31-game regular-season winning streak at home in the process.
It was an ending eerily similar to Super Bowl XLII, especially for the 14 Giants and seven Patriots who played in both games. Like David Tyree, who made a catch with the ball against his helmet to keep the Giants' game-winning drive in Arizona alive, Ballard wears No. 85.
In the Nov. 6 game, the Giants and Patriots combined to convert just 9-of-29 third downs, a surprisingly low 31 percent between a pair of high-powered offenses run by quarterbacks who are typically very strong on third downs.
The Giants have shown they can get to Brady. They sacked him five times and hit him 13 in Super Bowl XLII. They got just three hits on him Nov. 6, but did come up with a pair of interceptions.
Brady said he "sucked" in New England's 23-20 AFC Championship Game victory over Baltimore, when he was intercepted twice and struggled with his accuracy. A notoriously fiery leader, Brady will be facing a defense that has come on strong after struggling to cope with a slew of early-season injuries.
In three postseason games this season, the Giants have allowed a total of 39 points. The Patriots finished the regular season second in the league averaging 428 yards per game. Then again, they entered Super Bowl XLII 18-0 and with the NFL top-ranked offense.
The Giants have knocked off a well-balanced team in Atlanta, a juggernaut offense in Green Bay and a hard-nosed defensive team in San Francisco to reel off three consecutive road playoff victories to earn the trip to Indianapolis.
Manning has been the unquestioned leader throughout the season. And with a trio of strong wide receivers and now running back Ahmad Bradshaw contributing in both phases of the offense, it could be Brady who is pressed to keep up while battling the Giants' ferocious pass rush.
The Patriots closed the regular season with the NFL's 31-st ranked defense, but have buckled down to hold Denver and Baltimore to a combined 30 points. That included four consecutive defensive stops to hold on against Baltimore. But New England allowed 293.9 passing yards per game during the regular season and hasn't faced a strong passing team in the postseason.
Super Bowl XLVI will also be a homecoming of sorts for Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, who was playing for the Seahawks four years ago but who also has a home in Indianapolis.
"I think it's going to be very special," Branch said. "I know my phone is blowing off the hook right now, people calling but Georgia and Indianapolis will be there representing and I'm very thankful for that."
Patriots safety James Ihedigbo played for the rival Jets when the Giants and Patriots clashed in Arizona, but grew up in Massachusetts watching New England's great Super Bowl teams.
"I thought I never would have the opportunity to be a part of it," he said. "I mean you grow up watching the Ty Law three interceptions against Indy in the AFC Championship game, you see Rodney Harrison making big plays in Super Bowls and you grow up seeing that and you never think you would have a day to be a part of it. Now this team is writing our own script in the history book.
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