INDIANAPOLIS — Ahmad Bradshaw approached the goal line with the ball tucked tightly in his right arm and realized nobody was trying to strip it away or even stop him from scoring.
Could it really be this easy to score the winning touchdown in a Super Bowl?
Yes, it was, thanks to a gamble by the desperate New England Patriots, who were leading 17-15 at the time. They let the New York Giants running back go 6 yards untouched for a 21-17 lead with 57 seconds to play on Sunday night.
Coach Bill Belichick's decision to trade a touchdown for time surprised Bradshaw, who didn't expect to have such an easy path to the end zone and heard quarterback Eli Manning yelling at him to stop short of the goal line.
New York would have rather run more time off the clock and let kicker Lawrence Tynes finish it off with a field goal to win by a single point. Tynes was warming up on the sideline when Bradshaw got the handoff.
"I thought I heard Eli yelling at me to fall down," Bradshaw said. "I tried, but I couldn't do it."
Bradshaw spun around at the 1-yard line and tried to stop, but wound up falling backward into the end zone.
At that moment, Manning wished he'd anticipated the Patriots' let-'em-score decision in the huddle.
"I had the feeling they might do that," said Manning, voted the game's MVP. "I should have got to them and told them not to score. When I got the snap I saw their defensive line ease up. I was telling to Ahmad not to score, not to score."
It wasn't the first time a defense traded a touchdown for time in the Super Bowl.
Green Bay allowed Denver's Terrell Davis to score from 1 yard out to give the Broncos a 31-24 lead with 1:45 left in the 1998 game. Brett Favre couldn't take advantage of the final chance.
Neither could Tom Brady, who got the Patriots only to midfield with 5 seconds to go and said later that he agreed with coach Bill Belichick's decision to ease up on defense to save some time.
"I liked it," Brady said. "It was better than not having a chance at all. He made a good decision. We left ourselves with a little bit of time."
Trouble was, he couldn't do much with it against New York's heavy pressure.
On the final play, Brady eluded the rush and threw a high pass into a throng of players in the end zone. Defenders grabbed at receivers, who tried to snatch the ball in the scrum. The ball fell just out of the reach of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, skittering away.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin was yelling from the sideline as the final play unfolded.
"Knock the ball down! I couldn't yell it loud enough," Coughlin said.
Giants safety Deon Grant was in the scrum, doing everything possible to make sure the ball landed on the ground instead of a receiver's arms.
"I just tried to make sure a receiver didn't catch the ball," Grant said. "If I had to pull him down to make sure he didn't catch the ball, that was fine."
Brady watched helplessly from midfield.
"We got to the 50 and kind of ran out of time," said Brady, who completed a Super Bowl-record 16 consecutive passes but couldn't connect on the final one. "You come down to one play at the end. If we make it, we're world champs. If we don't, we're wishing we were."
It was reminiscent of their Super Bowl matchup four years ago, when Manning's touchdown pass in the closing minute ended New England's attempt to finish off a perfect season. New England took a 10-game winning streak into this one, but wound up desperate and done.