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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Jul 16 - 02:01 AM | Thu Jul 18 - 09:25 AM

Analysis/reaction: Giants-Patriots

The nightmare, relived. Only worse.

Every Patriot had the same response.

Virtually verbatim.

It went something like this:

"They made more plays than we did."

They being the New York Giants, who beat New England, again, in nearly identical fashion, in the Super Bowl, by nearly the same score, four years later.

Down 2-0 in the first quarter, the Patriots defense forced a Giant fumble deep in New England territory and recovered. But they had 12 men on the field, the Patriots did, and that's against the rules. Giants get the ball back and punch it into the end zone.

Two more times in the game, once inside the Giants' 10-yard line, the Patriots popped the ball out of a New York player's hands, only to see the ball bounce directly back to the Giants.

Give the Patriots defense credit. They played inspired football. Not perfect, of course, because they let the Giants make some mind-boggling big plays (Mario Manning on the sideline at midfield? Are you kidding me??).

But they were hitting the G-men hard, gang-tackling, wrapping up, getting constant pressure and sacks on Game MVP Eli Manning … doing everything you'd could have hoped of them. They knocked two Giant tight ends out of the game with knee injuries, and wounded several other New York players with their bruising body blows.

Yeah, it'd be really difficult to lay this loss at the feet of the New England defense, even if they admitted to allowing New York to score a touchdown with just under a minute left in the contest. Linebacker/co-captain Jerod Mayo called that "a smart move" to give the offense time to move the ball down the field to score the game-winning points. Some defenders said afterward that they would have liked to try to force a turnover, clinging to a 17-15 lead, rather than concede an easy six.

But that didn't happen.

On offense, New England had its share of big plays, particularly at the end of the first half and beginning of the second. Yet, when the Patriots needed them most, they couldn't finish.

The Hail Mary on the final play will long be replayed on for its dramatic conclusion (Am I the only one who thought Gronk actually caught it at first?).

However, the play that cost them most came one drive earlier: 2nd-and-11 from the Giants' 44.

With that two-point lead still in their possession and driving for the put-the-game-away score, All-Pro wideout Wes Welker found himself in the clear at the New York 20. Tom Brady saw him immediately and lobbed a pass his way.

It was just a bit off, though, to Welker's back shoulder. The receiver adjusted well, spinning a clockwise 180 as he reached high for the ball. It hit his hands, then the ground.

Welker knew instantly the ramifications of his drop. He crouched on his knees for a moment, head on the ground and in his hands, in stunned disbelief.

Afterward, in the most dejected of voices, he owned up to the mistake.

"It's one of those plays I've made a thousand times," said Welker. "I mean … the ball is right there. I've just got to make the play. It's a play I've made a thousand times in practice and everything else.

"It comes to the biggest moment of my life and I don't come up with it. It's discouraging."

Had the ball been better thrown, it might've resulted in a touchdown. Had Welker at least come down with the catch, it's a first down that sustains the drive.

Welker's teammates did their best to console him in their post-game interviews, saying that a game doesn't come down to one play.

They're right, of course. In the immediate aftermath, though, it's hard not to dwell on the one that got away.

"Wes was running down the field and it looked like [the Giants defense] messed the coverage up a little bit and I threw it to him," Brady explained. "He went up to try and make it, as he always does, and we just couldn't connect.

"He's a hell of a player," Brady added. "I'll keep throwing the ball to him for as long as I possibly can. He's a phenomenal player and teammate and I love that guy."

This Super Bowl unfolded – eerily – almost exactly like the last one between these two teams four years ago. This was a much better game, though. The Patriots played better, for the most part, and Manning proved himself worthy of an extra two letters at the end of his first name (Eli-te). And let's not forget that Brady set a Super Bowl record for consecutive completions, did a great job of eluding the Giant's vaunted pass rush to keep plays alive.

It was one of the most exciting finishes in Super Bowl history as well, with the outcome undecided until the clock struck double-zero and Brady's desperation pass hit the turf.

It was one of many, many plays that could have won the game for New England, just like four years ago. You could make the case that New York deserved to win four years ago because they were the better team that day.    

Which is why, maybe this one hurts a little more. Because it sure seemed like the better team didn't win tonight.

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