INDIANAPOLIS — Eli Manning is elite, for sure. A king of comebacks, too. And far, far more than Peyton's little brother now.
Spot-on from beginning to end Sunday night, Eli Manning won his second NFL championship in a four-year span — and second Super Bowl MVP award — for leading the New York Giants to a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots.
Manning went 30 for 40 for 296 yards, with one touchdown pass and zero interceptions. He opened the game by becoming the first quarterback to complete his first nine attempts in a Super Bowl. And he finished the job by directing the nine-play, 88-yard TD drive that put New York ahead with 57 seconds left.
"That was quite a drive that he was able to put together," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He deserves all the credit in the world, because he really has put his team on his shoulders all year."
This late drive, so reminiscent of the way New York beat New England in the 2008 Super Bowl, started on the Giants' 12, with a little more than 3½ minutes left and the Patriots ahead 17-15. It closed with running back Ahmad Bradshaw easing into the end zone from 6 yards out. The Patriots decided not to contest the run, trying to save some time on the clock for a final drive — an audacious decision by Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
But New England couldn't get the ball back in the end zone, with Tom Brady's final heave from his 49 falling barely beyond the grasp of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"We had this goal to finish, finish, finish, and win the fourth quarter," Coughlin said.
That's where Manning takes over.
He also was the MVP in 2008, when his scoring pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left allowed New York to upset Brady and New England, ruining the Patriots' bid for a perfect season. Back then, Manning got a boost from David Tyree's Velcro-helmet grab on the key drive. This time, the key play was perhaps Mario Manningham's 38-yard, over-the-shoulder catch between two defenders along the sideline, which held up after the Patriots challenged it.
The Giants had trouble putting up points Sunday despite getting into New England's territory on every drive except a kneeldown at the end of the first half. But Manning kept at it.
"We just tried to be patient," said Manningham, who finished with five catches for 73 yards. "Got to be patient with this game. We knew big plays (were) going to come. We just had to take advantage of them."
Manning now is one of only five players in NFL history with multiple Super Bowl MVP awards. He joined the guy he got the better of in the big game yet again, Brady, along with Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr and Joe Montana (the only player with three). And Manning did it in the House that Peyton Built, the stadium where his Big Bro — a four-time regular-season MVP but owner of only one Super Bowl title — plays for the Indianapolis Colts.
"It just feels good to win a Super Bowl. Doesn't matter where you are," Manning said, clutching the silver Vince Lombardi Trophy. "It's been a wild season. We had a great, tough bunch of guys who never quit, and had faith in each other. I'm proud of these guys sticking together."
As usual, he was as good as it gets down the stretch, in the crucible of the fourth quarter. During the regular season, he threw an NFL-record 15 TD passes in the final period.
"Eli's certainly had a great season," said Brady, who was 27 of 41 for 276 yards, with two TDs and one interception. He completed 16 consecutive passes in one stretch, breaking Joe Montana's Super Bowl record of 13.
Manning led six game-winning drives to bring New York back from fourth-quarter deficits in the regular season. So it came as no surprise he was cool as could be Sunday, when he was 10 of 14 for 118 yards over the final 15 minutes.
"We've had a bunch of them this year," Manning said.
The greatest comeback of all, though, probably was the way Manning — with plenty of help, of course — steered the Giants back after they lost five of six games in one stretch to fall to 7-7. From there, they won their last two regular-season games against the Jets and Cowboys to sneak into the playoffs as the NFC East champions, then continued their surge with four postseason wins in a row, none at home.
"We fought all year," Manning said. "Never got discouraged."
He finished the postseason with nine TDs and only one interception, solid as could be the whole way.
Back in August, before the season got going, Manning was asked in an interview whether he considered himself an "elite" quarterback a la Brady. Manning said simply that he belonged "in that class." But it all became quite a big deal in New York — shocking, right? — and he was questioned and criticized.
Hard to imagine anyone arguing now.