So Close

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Tom Brady’s nickname is “Captain America’’ because of his movie-star looks and the fact that he’s led New England to three Super Bowl wins.

Eli Manning doesn’t have any such tag, but should now be called “Mr. Clutch’’ after leading yet another dazzling comeback victory.

This past Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Manning guided the New York Giants to a 21-17 triumph over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, and again thwarted Brady.

“It was a wild season and a wild game,’’ said Manning, who passed for 296 yards and collected his second Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award. “We stayed positive. We had faith in each other.”

Four years ago, Manning emerged the hero as he orchestrated another fourth-quarter drive as the Giants upset New England 17-14.

The Patriots held a 17-15 lead when New York (13-7) had the ball at its 12-yard line and 3:46 left.

On the first play, Manning hit Mario Manningham (73 yards on five catches) with a 38-yard pass. Manningham’s catch came inches from the left sideline as Patrick Chung and Sterling Moore were about to pounce.

Ahmad Bradshaw (72 yards on 17 rushes) had the game-winner on a six-yard trot as 57 seconds remained.

Brady took over at the 20-yard line and moved his team to the Patriots’ 49, but on the final play unloaded a bomb into the end zone that tight end Rob Gronkowski (injured ankle) couldn’t grab.

“We had a chance to win it at the end,’’ said Brady, who finished by hitting 27 of 41 for 276 yards and one interception (Chase Blackburn). “You always wish you could have done more. They made the plays when it counted. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”

The first quarter belonged to New York which led 2-0 after Brady was called for intentional grounding after being tackled by Justin Tuck as 8:52 was left.

It ballooned to 9-0 when Manning found Victor Cruz (25 yards and four receptions) on a two-yard pass and 3:24 showing. The play capped a 78-yard, nine-play march.

New England (15-4) controlled the second quarter and made it 9-3 when Stephen Gostkowski lined a 29-yard field goal with 13:48 left after Jason Pierre-Paul batted down Brady’s pass on third and four.

Just before the half, Brady moved the Patriots a record-tying 96 yards on 14 plays and made it 10-9 when he drilled Danny Woodhead (42 yards on four catches) with a four-yard pass.

New England (349 total net yards) emerged from Madonna’s halftime show by driving 79 yards as Brady hit tight end Aaron Hernandez (67 yards on eight grabs) with a 12-yard strike as 11:20 was left in the third quarter that gave the Patriots a 17-9 lead.

New York then took over as Lawrence Tynes made a 38-yard field goal with 6:43 left in the third quarter that chopped New England’s advantage to 17-12, and a 33-yarder with 35 seconds remaining that pulled the Giants (396 total yards) within 17-15.

“It’s tough to get into the end zone,’’ said Manning (30 of 40 and no interceptions). “A number of guys played big-time. These are two good teams. This isn’t about one person. It’s about the team and what we were able to do.”

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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