Who's the man? Not Manning

Eli Manning's lucky TD drive notwithstanding — he almost turned over the ball five times on the final possession — the Packers figure to be team to beat in 2008, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says.

Enough about Eli Manning.

Enough about the New York Giants.

The Giants stunned the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII on Sunday behind a superb defensive effort. Anyone who thinks Manning was the MVP needs a reality check, and anyone who thinks Manning makes the Giants — not the Packers — the team to beat in the NFC next season is delusional.

The Giants are lightning-in-a-bottle champions, and barring the retirement of Brett Favre or some other startling offseason move, they'll be looking up at the Packers in the chase for home-field advantage in the NFC next season.

First, let's start with Manning, who looked like a blindfolded kid whacking away at a piñata during the Giants' dramatic final drive. Facing the biggest moment of his career, Manning's fundamentals went out the window, with one back-foot throw after another. About the only thing that saved him from disaster were the football gods, who generally find allegations of cheating a bit distasteful.

With Manning feeling the pressure, the Patriots had not one, not two, not three but four chances for interceptions on the fateful final drive.

The first came on the final play before the 2-minute warning. Throwing off of his back foot against a moderate pass rush, Manning let loose a floater into double coverage that slithered through the hands of safety Rodney Harrison, a future Hall of Famer with 33 career interceptions.

The second came when Manning air-mailed a pass that should have been picked off by big-play cornerback Asante Samuel, who has 16 interceptions during the last two seasons.

The third was Manning's famous escape from a sure sack. What is the cardinal sin of quarterbacking in the eyes of Packers coach Mike McCarthy? Throwing the ball late down the middle. What did Manning do after he wiggled his way out of the Patriots' grasp? Threw the ball up for grabs late down the middle.

Not only was the ball not intercepted, but it was caught by David Tyree — with a big helping hand to his helmet and the football gods. Throw 100 passes in Tyree's direction, and I bet you he couldn't do that again.

The fourth was another back-foot lollipop of a throw, which rookie Brandon Meriweather should have intercepted.

And that's not mentioning Manning's scramble in which he almost fumbled, coming between near-interceptions No. 2 and 3. On three consecutive plays, Manning almost committed a game-ending turnover, but he somehow dodged those landmines to throw the winning touchdown pass.

Phrases like "Super Bowl MVP," "budding star" and "emerging from Peyton's shadow" are being bandied out about Manning. Let me add another: It's better to be lucky than good.

Then there's the Giants' defense. There's no knocking what this unit did in shutting down the high-flying Packers and Patriots. But defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo seems destined to become the Washington Redskins' new coach. Where would the Giants be without his creative blitz packages and his ability to hide their personnel shortcomings?

As if that wouldn't be a big enough blow, Michael Strahan might retire — he almost did last offseason, and finally getting a Super Bowl ring seems a great way to cap a stellar 15-year career. Strahan's pass rush helped mask the Giants' porous secondary. Meanwhile, two of the three starting linebackers are unrestricted free agents.

The Giants' victory over New England was stunning. The only thing that could be more stunning is if the Giants return to the Super Bowl next year.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com

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