GLENDALE, Ariz. -- That's the thing about perfection: It's so unforgiving. Just ask the previously unbeaten New England Patriots, who realized Sunday night that 18-1 just doesn't have quite the right ring to it.
When we all get to fully dissect this one -- the greatest upset in Super Bowl history for my money -- we'll find that the miracle that was the New York Giants' 2007 season really boiled down to one play made, and one play missed. The Giants made the play and shocked the world. The Patriots failed to break up the play and will forever mourn the one that got away.
That was the difference between New York or New England winning Super Bowl XLII on Sunday night at the University of Phoenix Stadium. New York receiver David Tyree's mind-boggling 32-yard catch on third-and-five with 59 seconds remaining -- a pass the heavily pressured Eli Manning had no business even being able to launch -- was the catalyst for the Giants' memorable 17-14 win. And it was the play that brought the Patriots' bid for perfection to an end in the most un-Patriot of ways.
"There were two or three guys who had him, and he breaks free and throws up a Hail Mary that the guy comes down with,'' said Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, of the Manning-to-Tyree completion, which came four plays before Plaxico Burress' game-winning 13-yard touchdown catch. "I mean, everybody thought [Manning] was going down. But he didn't.
"I think that play was kind of representative of them getting the breaks today. The kind of breaks we usually get.''
Harrison had the best possible view of Tyree's circus catch. He was the defender on the play, and try as he might to separate Tyree from the ball at the New England 24-yard line, he couldn't do so. As he was falling backwards to the turf, Tyree clutched the ball one-handed against his metallic-blue helmet, with much the same determination that the entire New York team clung to the dream that it could beat the mighty Patriots in this game.
"I just wasn't letting it go,'' said Tyree, whose five-yard touchdown reception with 11:05 remaining jump-started the Giants offense and gave New York a 10-7 fourth-quarter lead. "Somehow I knew we were going to get it done. We've been on a roll and with the surge we've had in the second half of the season, even the crazy way we won in Green Bay ... [in the NFC title game]. Those are things that honestly just don't make sense to the human mind.''
Agreed. Improbable doesn't begin to describe Manning's escape from the clutches of Patriots defensive lineman Jarvis Green and others on the pass to Tyree. It doesn't sum up just how desperate things looked for New York when Tom Brady found Randy Moss for the go-ahead six-yard touchdown pass with 2:42 remaining, giving the Patriots a 14-10 lead that looked to be right out of their history of making fourth-quarter magic in the Super Bowl.
For the second time in five weeks, it looked like the Giants would have to settle for close, but not quite against the vaunted Patriots. Then Manning and Tyree saved the day on third-and-five, and forced us all to remember that there are no certainties in the NFL. Even at 18-0.
"They were 18-0 and riding high,'' Tyree said. "They were feeling good. But we didn't treat them like an undefeated team. We didn't treat them like some Greek myth. There was no Godzilla out there.''
But the Patriots this season were the NFL's version of Godzilla until Sunday night. They had destroyed everything and everyone in their path, building an aura of invincibility in the process. The Giants were really the first team all season that refused to back down to the Patriots, and believed just as firmly in their own special place in history.
"We all respect the Patriots, but it was our time,'' Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "We wanted to start our own dynasty. Forget that parade in Boston. We're having one in New York City.''
Maybe the most surprising thing about Sunday's outcome was that despite the Pats' 18-game win streak, the Giants, with their modest three-game winning streak in the playoffs heading into the Super Bowl, played like they were the hotter team. To quote the NFL's rather lame Super Bowl XLII catch-phrase, they wanted it more. They out-hit the Patriots, they out-hustled them, they out-played them at every key moment of the game.
"I think their intensity from the beginning snap to the end of the game was really higher than ours,'' said Moss, with his usual blunt honesty. "We just couldn't meet that intensity. They had the intensity for four quarters.''
One more win and these Patriots would have forced their way into the debate about the greatest NFL team of all time. The discussion may not have ended with them, but New England seemed poised and determined to make us mention them first before including the likes of all those superb Steelers, Packers and 49ers teams -- in addition to those still-unique 1972 Dolphins.
But on this night, it was not to be for a New England team that had not lost in more than a year. The bid for perfection is over, and now these Patriots will be remembered first and foremost for not being able to close the deal history had offered them. Those three, three-point wins in the Super Bowl are still ever so sweet, but the Patriots' three-point loss to the underdog Giants made the kind of history New England had never even remotely fathomed.
"The Giants certainly deserve it,'' said Brady, unaccustomed to the role of gracious loser. "They made more plays than us. We just didn't get it done. Fourteen points, that's our lowest total of the year. That got us beat. It isn't something that any of us prepared for. We're usually on the better side of those three-point wins.''
This time it was the Giants, not the Patriots, who were being hailed for their resiliency, for finding a new way to win every week. In some ways, this New York team is a mirror image of the 2001 Patriots, that plucky first New England Super Bowl championship club that went 11-5 in the regular season and then upset the heavily favored Rams on the strength of a great game plan and more will to win.
"Every team is beatable, you never know,'' Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. "The right moment, the right time, every team is beatable.''
Coughlin's Giants proved it to us all once again. History comes in a lot of different packages, and it doesn't always follow the script. Sunday night wasn't the culmination of perfection we had spent all season anticipating. But it was a perfect ending, nonetheless. We just didn't see it unfolding until it was already upon us.