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Eli Manning has taught us to never underestimate his talents again

INDIANAPOLIS -- I still can't get over that throw from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham. As much as I respect the catch (it will be the greatest of Manningham's career, no matter how long he plays), I am in awe of the throw. How did Manning make that throw? Why make that throw? Why did he pick the target of the guy with a corner in coverage and a safety flying over to crush Manningham? The 38-yard throw -- which began an 88-yard, Super Bowl-winning touchdown drive that Bill Belichick will see in his nightmares -- is just one more reason to never, ever question how good Eli Manning is. He will have some crappy games the rest of his career, because two or three times a year he stinks. But I ask you: What quarterback alive do you want with the ball in his hands in the last two minutes of a big game?

Thought so. Eli Manning.

"That guy stole my MVP again,'' Justin Tuck (two sacks, three quarterback pressures) said. Kidding. Kidding!

So many thoughts, many about Manning, in the hours after the Giants' 21-17 Super Bowl win over the Patriots. Let's categorize them:

What makes Eli Eli

I've noticed this about the guy. Football's his job, and he likes it a lot. But let's say God tapped him on the shoulder tomorrow and said, "I've got different plans for you. You're going to be an architect.'' Manning would handle that pretty well. He is a sick competitor, but he'd figure a way to satisfy that part of his life. Golf with the other architects, Friday night poker, trying to be a better architect than anyone else out there.

"He just doesn't care,'' Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck said by his locker 90 minutes after the Super Bowl. "He doesn't. If we lose the game today, life goes on. He's fine. He'll just start getting ready for next year. That's who he is.''

What I saw during Super Bowl week

As the pool reporter covering three full Giants practices during the week, I saw one series of plays that really interested me Thursday. In practice, most teams have first units playing against second-unit scout teams, with players on the scout teams simulating the opposition. But Giants coach Tom Coughlin likes to do a real two-minute drill, with first-team offense against first-team defense. And it's a big deal around the team. When the period for the two-minute drill came up Thursday, the defense got very excited. "UNLEASH THE HOUNDS!'' defensive tackle Chris Canty said, jogging on the field. "UNLEASH THE HOUNDS!'' And his mates got fired up too, even though in football practices, hitting the quarterback is verboten.

Then Eli Manning took the offense 75 yards in six plays, with no emotion whatsoever.

"Now, understand that this deal is set up for the offense to win,'' Tuck said. "Coach Coughlin places a lot of emphasis on the offense doing well. He knows we can't touch Eli. But watching him in that drill every week is why he's so good in the last couple of minutes of games. He gets that against us.''

"The week we were playing the Jets,'' backup quarterback David Carr told me after the game, "Eli threw an interception on the first play of that drill. The defense got really excited. They went out and played great against the Jets that week, and we won. The joke in our quarterback meeting room was, 'You gave the defense life.' ''

Now he's given them a second ring.

Eli in the clutch

Manning drove the Giants 83 yards for the winning touchdown in XLVI, 80 yards for the winning touchdown this year in the regular season, and 88 yards Sunday for the winning touchdown.

In three straight games against the best coach of this era and against an all-time quarterback, Manning has taken the ball with less than four minutes to play, trailing every time. And won every time.

***

Opening day is 214 days away, and the opening game of the 2012 season will be ...

Lots of candidates for the Giants to open with next September 6. The favorites, in order:

1. Green Bay. Easily the most attractive game, but will FOX lobby hard to keep it as a doubleheader game, and keep it from opening night?

2. New Orleans. Drew Brees-Eli Manning is a heck of a No. 2 choice.

3. Pittsburgh. Great story angles at the midpoint of the careers of Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. Each will be entering year nine. If the Giants didn't get Manning in the 2004 draft, they'd have taken Big Ben. And each has two Super Bowl wins.

4. Philadelphia. Good rivalry game. Mike Vick, presumably healthy.

5. Dallas. But after FOX got robbed of both Giants-Cowboys games for 2011 by NBC, I doubt sincerely NBC's going to be lobbying for this game.

***

Thoughts on the Hall of Fame Class of 2012.

Saturday was my 20th Hall of Fame selection meeting, and not much has changed over the years, other than the increase of voters. There used to be 36; now there are 44. But these voters, media people from around the country, are strong-willed and opinionated -- many of them -- and what resulted Saturday is not a big surprise if you understand how the process works, and who votes.

There are two bones of contention coming out of the meeting -- at least that I've heard from readers, tweeters and other writers: the Bill Parcells snub and the logjam at wide receiver. I can't divulge conversations from the room; that's against Hall policy. It's also against Hall policy to divulge your vote. Now, I believe in transparency, but I'll follow the Hall's directives as long as I'm an active member of the committee. But as a voter, I always have felt comfortable saying I've supported one candidate or the other.

Re the wideouts: It's become obvious there's a logjam between the three eligible receivers -- Andre Reed, Cris Carter and Tim Brown. I have supported Carter consistently; I believe he's the best boundary receiver of all time. (That was a phrase coined by former Niner Randy Cross that I stole because it's so appropriate. Carter was superb at catching the ball at the very edge of the sideline before his feet hit the white of the sideline.) Reed has some staunch supporters. Carter has his. Brown too. But I think it's coming down to Carter and Reed.

In the same number of games with mostly lesser quarterbacks than Reed had, Carter caught 150 more passes for 43 more touchdowns. That carries a lot of weight with me. But I understand the conflict here. Reed was a very good receiver in his own right. I just feel Carter's better from a historical perspective. Obviously, if 80 percent of voters felt the way I feel, Carter would be in. I was asked in the last 36 hours what's going to change at receiver. I don't know. I'm not sure anything will change.

Re Parcells: When he was a coach, he was a lightning rod. Now that he's not coaching, he appears to be a lightning rod again in the Hall voting. I've also been a staunch supporter of Parcells, because of his consistency in taking poor teams and turning them into winners -- either big winners or better winners than they'd been. I'm not sure how the 10th-winningest coach ever, with two Super Bowls and piloting four woebegone teams to the playoffs, doesn't get in. But there are obviously those in the room who view his accomplishments much different than I do. It's like always say: I'm one of 44. I can argue a man's case strenuously, but the room is a democracy.

Now, I'd love to be more transparent about the discussion in the room, but we are under a confidentiality agreement, per Hall rules. I would love to tell you who I voted for precisely. Just know that I think all six men who were enshrined are deserving. We're put in a tough spot here. I'm trying to be as forthcoming as I can.

***

Congratulations, Matt Birk.

The NFL Man of the Year award went to the veteran Ravens center. He beat out Philip Rivers and Charles Tillman, and he did it by going all-in on encouraging kids to read. His acceptance speech Saturday night at the NFL Honors awards was touching and smart.

"Reading is a skill from which all others follow,'' Birk said. "Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, baby sitters ... even Steeler fans ... anyone who has instilled the love of reading in a child, this is for you.''

Couldn't have said it better.

***

Luck of the draw.

Stanford's Andrew Luck, the likely No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in 11 weeks, was in Indianapolis Thursday to have his body tested and analyzed by Gatorade Sports Science. "I felt like a laboratory rat,'' Luck said. "Pretty valuable, though. I was educated about how much sodium you lose when you're an athlete, and educated on time frames for nutrition -- not just what to eat, but when to eat it.'' He didn't stay for the game. Actually, he stayed for about five hours, just enough to have about 937 drive-thru-type interviews.

Here's a quick Q&A with a guy we're going to get to know much, much better before draft day April 26, and who is very likely to end up here in Indianapolis:

Me: First time at a Super Bowl?

Luck: "No. I went to the one in Houston [eight years ago]. Luckily, having a dad who played in the league and worked for the league helped get us in to some stuff there. But, yeah, this was pretty interesting. I knew what to expect, but this was a zoo here today.''

Me: What are you doing to prepare for the Scouting Combine?

Luck: "Working out in Los Angeles with Athletes Performance Institute. Trying to get my hands on as much NFL tape as I can. I'm lucky. I was in a program at Stanford with coaches who had lots of ties to the NFL, so I've seen a lot. That's helped. And I'm trying to adjust to the speed of the NFL. I'm working with some receivers who have had NFL experience, like [former Chief] Samie Parker.''

Me: Your former offense coordinator, Greg Roman, tells me you'd often come in on Sunday and Monday and suggest things for the game plan the next week. Do you feel you've been able to advance your NFL knowledge at Stanford because of how many NFL coaches they've had there?

Luck: "I think we ran a very professional offense. Watching the 49ers this year with my teammates, it was almost eerie. We could call out the plays when we saw how they lined up. So I think I've been very fortunate to have the coaches and the experience there that I've had. Sometimes, when I might suggest something, we'd end up incorporating it, and if we wouldn't, it was never, 'Oh, you idiot.' There was always a lot of mutual respect there.''

Me: What else do you think will help you as you take the next step to the NFL?

Luck: "I pretty much have an unquenchable thirst for football knowledge.''

Somewhere this morning, new Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will be licking his chops when he reads that last sentence.

***

The Steve Gleason story.

Thanks for your kind words on Twitter Sunday after the story on ALS-stricken former Saint Steve Gleason ran on the NBC pregame show. Thanks also to producer Phil Parrish of NBC and production assistant Paige Westin for their diligence on the story. Many of you have asked how you can either help Gleason's cause or learn more about how he's trying to help ALS patients. You can do so by going to teamgleason.org

Two poignant parts of the story, one about the 34-year-old Gleason, who now is faced with the prospect of death because this is a fatal disease with no known cure, saying we should all live like we have a timeline. Two: His wife Michel saying with tears streaming down her face how much she'll miss his voice.

To that end, Gleason last summer began recording words and phrases, thousands of them, into a Steve Gleason voice bank so he'll be able to direct his voice through a computer once his muscles fail him and he's not able to speak anymore. I listened to his "synthetic voice'' over the weekend. "We have created a synthetic voice that sounds like my own voice,'' he says in the choppy but clearly recognizable voice patterns. "I hope you like it because you will be hearing from me for decades to come.''

Gleason had two ALS patients, one from Louisiana and one from Indiana, at the Super Bowl Sunday, the start of what he hopes to do with his foundation. "I want to be able to help ALS patients lead better lives,'' he said. "So many of them, when they get diagnosed, stop living the sort of full life that they still should be able to live. They don't have the resources to do it. I hope to be able to help some of them do the things they love to do. I refuse to give in to the disease. If I can help others do the same, I would be very happy.''

On the sidelines Sunday, before the game, Gleason greeted an admirer of his, Giants special-teams coach Larry Izzo ("Steve's one of the best guys ever to play special teams,'' Izzo said), who said to him, "It's so great what you're doing with your foundation.'' That was Gleason's victory on Sunday.

It's a wrap.

1. New York Giants (13-7). The other day, Tom Coughlin said to me, "Don Shula's amazing. Amazing! Look at how many games he's won!'' Shula's won 347. Coughlin won his 154th last night and would be lucky, obviously, to get to 200 one day. But I do think Coughlin's amazing himself, to have withstood the stress of this job with an expansion team for half his career and one of the modern powerhouses for the other half ... and to have won an average of 9.6 games a year

2. New England (15-4). Super Bowl titles won, last 10 seasons: Giants 2, Steelers 2, Patriots 2.

3. San Francisco (14-4). Worst thing about their NFC title game loss: Niners watched the Super Bowl and said, "We should have been there.'' Best thing about their NFC title game loss: Now maybe a team (Washington, Miami, Seattle) won't go overboard and pay Alex Smith $12 million a year.

4.Baltimore (13-5). Listen to Tony Dungy talk about Jim Caldwell's ability to erase mistakes from quarterback play, and you'll be convinced that Joe Flacco is in very good hands with his new quarterback coach.

5.Green Bay (15-2). Aaron Rodgers was splendid on NBC in the pregame show. Not afraid to be a little irreverent.

6.New Orleans (14-4). Everybody who keeps asking the Drew Brees free agency question needs to understand the Saints aren't letting him go, under any circumstances. If they don't get him re-signed, he'll be franchised. No way he's not under center for the Saints opening day.

7.Houston (11-7). Scout receivers, Rick Smith.

8.Pittsburgh (12-5). The interview with Todd Haley for offensive coordinator was a courtesy interview. There's a sense Haley's too tough to get along with. That plus the fact that, on his way out of Kansas City, he implied to the Kansas City Star that the team was bugging his phone. Leveling unfounded accusations against your employer (and if there is anything to them, then let's have the proof) to the media is not a very good way to get a job in a league where other teams think those who own and run the Chiefs are good men.

9.Detroit (10-7). No way they can let Cliff Avril walk in free agency.

10. Atlanta (10-7). Looming star of football announcing: Tony Gonzalez. Wowed a few people in Indy with his quickness.

11.Denver (9-9). One week without a Tebow feature or a Tebow story of any kind .. Good play.

12.Philadelphia (8-8). Ninety miles down the New Jersey Turnpike, the Eagles' fans look at the Giants and say in unison, "All right, Andy Reid. Two titles in four years for the Giants. Our patience has run out.''

13.Arizona (8-8). The Cards should be sniffing around the fringes of Peyton Manning, with Larry Fitzgerald and that defense.

14.San Diego (8-8). I can't look at Osi Umenyiora without thinking what a slam-dunk impact player he'd have been for the Chargers if the Giants had let him go in 2004.

15.Miami (6-10). Most common-sense rumor of Super Bowl week: Stephen Ross wants Peyton Manning.

Offensive Player of the Week

Giants QB Eli Manning. I've come to the conclusion that his laissez-faire attitude is one of the things that makes him a great player. He doesn't sweat the small stuff. How else do you explain the great play late in so many big games? In his two Super Bowl victories, Manning is a 66 percent passer with 551 passing yards and one turnover. And his throw to Manningham with the season on the line ... priceless.

Defensive Player of the Week

Giants DL Justin Tuck. Give credit to the Patriots for sealing off the holes they couldn't seal four years ago. The Giants weren't as successful rushing the passer as they were in the previous Super Bowl against New England, but Tuck did get two sacks, the second of which left Brady with a left shoulder injury that will be painful this morning. While the Patriots shut down the rush of Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul with strong play on the left side of their line, Tuck got the best penetration of the night.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Giants P Steve Weatherford. Other than one sloppy touchback, his day was stellar. His four punts left the Patriots to start from their 6-, 20-, 4- and 8-yard lines.

Coach of the Week

Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Sometimes you have to take what the defense gives you. Sometimes you have to attack the defense when it's not giving you much, in hopes that your key guys can make a play or two that logic says isn't coming. I thought Gilbride had a great feel for this game. It's not always total rushing yards; number of rushes is just as important when you want to keep the ball away from the other quarterback. The Giants' 28 rushes (4.1 per rush) helped them to 37 minutes of possession time. Gilbride had to figure out what the Patriots were doing on defense, which took a while (like, about 55 minutes). "It was a tough game to call,'' Gilbride said, "because they're a tough team to go against. They don't let you figure out what they're doing very easily.''

Goat of the Week

New England WR Wes Welker. It wasn't the easiest ball to catch, but with four minutes left and the Patriots hanging on to a 17-15 lead, Brady saw Welker get behind coverage, so he threw him the ball at the Giant 22. Welker had both hands cleanly on the ball. As he fell to the ground, he somehow lost control of it. Instead of the Patriots having the ball at the New York 20 with the clock running and the Giants having only one timeout left, Brady couldn't convert the 3re-and-11 play and the Pats punted. A catch by Welker there and the Patriots could at least take the clock down to two minutes, with at least three points likely before turning it over to the Giants.

"That is the beauty of the NFL. Everybody is so close, and everyone has a good football team in the NFL. The margin of error between winning and losing is really tiny, and the ball can bounce your way, or the ball can go off somebody's fingertips, and it changes the whole outlook of careers -- not just games, careers. We had some balls go our way. We have got to have a little luck in some games to get to the Super Bowl and win this game. You have to have some good players and good coaches, and we had a little bit of all of that.''

-- Giants GM Jerry Reese.

"Hit me right in the hands. It's a play I never drop. It comes at the biggest moment of my life.''

-- New England wideout Wes Welker

"Tom has seen my poetry. I think Tom enjoys it. Tom enjoys the Suburban Poet ... A lot of the guys on the team know me as the poet, the Suburban Poet. At some point, I thought, 'Most of the guys don't know my name. They just call me the Poet.' ''

-- New England practice squad player Ross Ventrone, who fancies himself the Suburban Poet.

Ventrone says instead of singing the Villanova fight song when young players have to sing their college's song on demand by Patriot veterans, he throws out a poem.

I asked Ventrone for a poem or two. He has taken to doing Twitpoems, 140-character jobs he fits to Twitter. Here's his tribute to aardvarks:

Nocturnal talk,Eyes open when it's dark.Interesting animal style,Big Ups to aardvarks (we need you out there).

"Aardvarks are a nocturnal burrowing animal (eyes open when it's dark) that not a lot of people are familiar with,'' Ventrone wrote via email. "So I just show them love by saying we need you out there. Ha-ha.''

Okeedokee.

The seven-hour, 34-minute election meeting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012 had one inescapable trend: The longer the 44 voters debated a candidate's case, the more dubious his prospects became. The longest discussions Saturday:

Bill Parcells, coach: 57 minutes, eliminated in cut to 5.

Ed DeBartolo Jr., owner: 41 minutes; eliminated in cut to 10.

Andre Reed, wideout: 29 minutes, eliminated in cut to 10.

Dick Stanfel, guard: 25 minutes, did not receive 36 votes required for election*

* Stanfel was a Senior Committee nominee. There are two of those per year. Those candidates are voted on differently than the 15 modern-era candidates, in that they simply need to get 80 percent of the votes -- 36 of the 44 voters must vote yes.

We debated Willie Roaf for eight minutes, Dermontti Dawson for 10, Chris Doleman for 13, Cortez Kennedy for 16 and Curtis Martin for 19. That's 66 minutes for the five modern guys who made it ... just nine minutes more combined than the entire Parcells discussion.

The David Tyree Velcro catch was the last reception of his NFL career.

Awkward moments at the Colts facility last week on the four days the Patriots were there to practice. Usually, when an NFL team's facility is being used for a Super Bowl, the team empties out and returns the day after the game. But because Peyton Manning was doing serious rehab in his attempt to return from neck surgery, Manning was at the facility most days until 10 a.m., leaving before the Patriots arrived. But still the Patriots used the Colts' locker room, which chapped not only Manning but many in the Colts organization. Most assumed Brady would be in Manning's locker, but he wasn't. Instead, it was the chairman of the board on the New England D: Vince Wilfork.

Four of them:

1. The Orlando Magic had a game Saturday night in Indianapolis against the Pacers. But by the time the NBA schedule was finalized after the season was delayed, the Magic couldn't book hotel rooms in Indy for the Friday night two days before the Super Bowl. So the team played Friday night in Orlando and flew to Cincinnati -- the airport there is just south of town, over the Ohio River in Kentucky -- and stayed in a hotel in Florence, Ky. That is about 112 miles from Indianapolis.

It's the next part of the trip that boggles my mind: At 1:45 p.m., the team boarded a bus at the hotel and went back to the airport, went through security, boarded a plane, flew 28 minutes to the west side of Indianapolis, deplaned, boarded another bus and drove 20 minutes from the Indianapolis airport east through the Super Bowl snarl to the arena in downtown Indy. Now, that's a drive I've made many eight or 10 times in my life, owing to the fact I used to live in Cincinnati. I am stunned any thinking person, or travel expert, would suggest that the best way to go is to fly.

That's an all-highway, 90- to 100-minute drive. The Magic could have left at 1:45 p.m. and been at the arena by 3:30, at the latest. They arrived at 4.

I saw Brian Billick and Lions CEO Tom Lewand getting coffee Sunday morning. "Totally understandable,'' Billick said. "Players hate buses.'' Got it. But what would you rather do -- be on one bus for 90 minutes or be on a bus for 15 minutes, go through security, get on a plane, be on the plane for 30 minutes, land, and get on another bus for 20 minutes?

2. I love the Indy airport, by the way. Did you know it's the only major airport in the United States that's been built since 9/11? Good restaurants, plentiful good coffee, short walks from counters to gates, still shiny (it opened in 2008).

3. The JW Marriott was the best Super Bowl media hotel I've been in. Bar none, hands down. Friendly staff, comfortable room, great TV, 12-minute walk to the stadium. Perfect ...

4. Until Saturday night. So I've had a room on the southeast side of the hotel, overlooking Victory Field on one side and the heart of downtown on the other. Saturday night, DirecTV had a big party at Victory Field. When I went to sleep around 11:30, I felt like I was at the party, not in a hotel across the street from it. Some band playing there had the bass turned up, and the thump-thump-thump of it was maddening. But I can sleep through pretty much anything, so I went to bed.

Woke up and the clock radio read "3:03,'' and the booming bass was louder, and there was something vibrating in the room, like glasses clanking in the cupboard when you live right next to train tracks and a freight train rumbles by. In my room is a vase, and it sits on the marble-covered desk-bureau combination piece of furniture. That vase was rumbling ever-so-lightly on the marble top. I got up, took the vase off the desk and put it on the carpeted floor, and prayed that the siege from across the street would end soon. I guess it did. Woke up at 6. Silence.

"Obama we can't wait too see you.''

-- @Prince Amukamara, the Giants' rookie cornerback, just before midnight.

"There were fewer people at the Maxim Party than are out there for the coin toss.''

-- @PeteAbe, the Boston Globe's Pete Abraham, who was not exaggerating. Much.

"I Been Thru A LOT...But There Are Ppl In This World w/ More Serious Problems So I Cant Hang The Head....Thank You Lord #Blessed''

--@TiUnderwood, New England wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, after being cut late Saturday by the Patriots, a move that left longtime Super Bowl attendees (like me) wondering if a player had ever been released on the day before a Super Bowl for a reason other than disciplinary.

"If Gronk were a reporter, he'd be Walter Gronkite.''

-- @Moosehead04, fan Ryan Bailey, on the burgeoning nickname-mania of New England tight end Rob Gronkowski.

"One more day before I'm released from my cage.''

-- @AaronHernandez, at 1:11 p.m. Saturday.

1. I think this is what I liked about the Super Bowl:

a. Headline of the Week, from Saturday's New York Post: "Piggy Peyton Trying to Steal Eli's Show.'' Well, I didn't see it that way, and it wasn't that way, but since when has that stopped the Post's headline writers?

b. Good to see Chris Doleman truly humbled by his election of the Hall of Fame. "The only thing bigger is being in God's kingdom,'' Doleman told Dan Wiederer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

c. This is Indy hospitality: Two friends from New Jersey decided late in the process to come to the Super Bowl. They couldn't find a hotel room within 60 miles, and so I reached out to friends I'd met a couple of times at Indy Tweetups and gotten chummy with, Angie and Mike Six of Fishers, Ind. I knew it was level-jumping, but I asked if they'd mind putting my Jersey friends up. No problem! Have a super day! They got along fine, had a good time together, and made new friends. Cool scene.

d. Great call by referee John Parry on the safety on the Pats' first play of the night. Terrific call, because in the Super Bowl, you're playing with an all-star crew, and it means the field judge and/or the back judge had to see Brady throw it away and report it to Parry and then Parry had to have the guts to call it.

e. Henry Hynoski. Sounds like a fullback. Plays like one.

f. And recovers fumbles like a champ.

g. Jason Pierre-Paul's block of a Brady pass, which held the Pats to a field goal early.

h. Rodney Harrison once said the toughest blocking back he ever faced in the NFL was Brandon Jacobs. Well, on the Giants' third series, Jacobs met Rob Ninkovich trying to get around the corner and hit him, stood him up, and knocked him back. Loudly.

i. The hands of Hakeem Nicks.

j. Matt Light, who really rose to the challenge.

k. Brandon Spikes, who was everywhere.

l. The Patriots deferring looked really good, with a 96-yard drive to end the first half and a 76-yard drive to start the second.

m. Kevin Gilbride's play-calling. I liked how he stuck with the run because it was working pretty well (28 carries for 114 yards) and because the Patriots threw some coverages that Gilbride and Victor Cruz couldn't conquer.

n. Man-of-the-people Mark Davis stopping and talking to Raider fans around Indy. He loved it.

o. Tom Coughlin was walking off the NFL Network set on the field after the game, and Flava Flav, the guy with the big clocks around his neck, hugged him affectionately. We all, apparently, can get along.

2. I think this is what I didn't like about the Super Bowl:

a. Mark Herzlich inactive. Bummer.

b. Twelve men on the field. Are you kidding? On this stage? A 12th man on the field, and what's worse, no one running to get off? That's as bad a play as I've seen a Bill Belichick team make in a long time. No wonder he was getting into it on the sidelines with defensive play-caller Matt Patricia after that.

c. I'd argue that's the play of the game.

d. Kevin Boothe's holding call with 4:27 left in the first half. Huge, because the Giants converted the run into a first down, and they'd likely have been able to whittle the clock way down before halftime, and maybe score a touchdown to make it 16-3 before the half.

e. Gronk. No agility.

f. This is something I don't understand. Never will. The Patriots deactivated running back Kevin Faulk -- who has been around since the Coolidge presidency -- in favor of rookie Steven Ridley. Who did not play.

g. Slightly more understandable, but still aggravating: Tiquan Underwood was waived the night before the game and defensive end Alex Silvestro signed to the active roster. Silvestro didn't play either.

h. The Pats' time of possession, 22:55. That, plus the defense allowing Eli to complete 75 percent.

i. What a horrible break, tight end Travis Beckum of the Giants going out with a torn ACL.

j. The Giants' three fumbles. Amazing none was costly.

3. I think Myra Kraft weeps.

4. I think my line of the night comes from Steve Serby of the New York Post: "You just don't throw on Chase Blackburn.''

5. I think the league, the Rams and the city of St. Louis avoided one of the major headaches of the 2012 offseason by agreeing to a deal to put one game in each of the next three years in London Sunday.

6. I think the halftime show was terrific. Loved that Madonna finished with "Like a Prayer.''

7. I think that was a cringing moment, when Gerald McCoy, working for whatever that Chad Ochocinco channel is, got up at the Madonna press conference and asked her for some career advice. Ouch. But I hand it to McCoy for his honesty when I saw him during the week. I told him new Bucs coach Greg Schiano would bring hardline discipline and organization to Tampa Bay. "Good,'' McCoy said. "We need it.'' We saw that last year.

8. I think if the NFL has the Honors Show again next year, it should be done live. I caught part of the taped show, and it seemed like a fun deal, but why would fans watch it if two hours beforehand they knew the results, which were all over the internet? By the way, not a big fan of the invented categories. Fantasy Player of the Year, Play of the Year, and, of course, the GMC Never Say Never Moment of the Year. (I am so shocked that Tim Tebow won an award at the NFL Honors show. Who would have guessed that?) That award should have been called the GMC Never Do An Awards Show Without Finding a Way to Exploit Tim Tebow. After all those invented awards, I was left with one question: Where was Instant Replay Challenge of the Year?

9. I think I'd like to applaud Aaron Rodgers, and not just for winning the MVP. (Lots of suspense there.) But for bashing the effort put forth by players at the Pro Bowl last weekend. As you know, I've given up on the game. It's a silly, meaningless, stupid exhibition. Most players work harder in a Saturday morning walkthrough practice than they do in the Pro Bowl game. The NFL should cancel it immediately.

Not that I'm blaming the players. Who wants to get hurt in an exhibition game, with millions on the line if you suffer a freak injury? I've been asked a lot what's the solution, and what should the league do about the game. I say: Eliminate it. Forget the skills competition. Just end the season with the Super Bowl, and if you want to honor all the men voted to the Pro Bowl, bring them to the Super Bowl site and introduce them on the red carpet at the Saturday night show, and make that show the football Oscars. Overwhelm the place with football players, coaches and stars. Make it appointment television. And good for Roger Goodell, telling Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic Sunday that if the game can't be improved the league will consider abolishing it.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Man's Gotta Eat Dept.: Gene Steratore, the NFL ref who did one playoff game this year and doubles as an NCAA ref, was in Ann Arbor Wednesday (Indiana-Michigan), the Bronx Thursday (Marist-Manhattan) and Hartford Saturday (Seton Hall-UConn).

b. Interesting being with Randy Moss (the announcer, not the pass-catcher) Sunday for NBC on the pregame show. Told me a great story. Moss, of course, is a big horse guy. "I've been to 31 of the last 32 Kentucky Derbies,'' he told me while we waited to go on TV Sunday afternoon outside the Giants hotel. "The first one was amazing. They have a seniority system in the press box, and I knew one of the veteran writers, a guy from Arkansas, the Arkansas Gazette, who was going to watch it off the TV monitor because he couldn't see that well. So he told me I could use his seat, which was No. 2 in the press box. A great seat. But he said, 'I better take you down and introduce you to the two guys next to you so they don't think you're stealing the seat.'

He takes me down, and I meet the two guys. He said 'This is Dick Young.' Then, 'This is Red Smith.' Wow. I was 21. They were the two guys who'd covered the Derby the longest. I've been to every Derby since then but one, and never had a seat quite that good.''

c. Tremendous commercial about Chrysler, Clint Eastwood.

d. Somehow, I don't think Clint Eastwood's an MMQB reader.

e. Is Deion Sanders really this popular that he's in commercials out the wazoo? Does America love Deion that much?

f. Met Rooney Mara in the Giants' locker room postgame. That was odd. Nice, polite, gracious. Know where she was a week ago today? Japan. Promoting "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.'' Know where she'll be later today? At an Oscar's luncheon in Los Angeles.

g. Coffeenerdness: "Six-shot tall Americano,'' Lions CEO Tom Lewand ordered Sunday morning in the second-floor Starbucks in the JW Marriott here. Second time I'd seen him order it this week. Imagine six shots of espresso, with just a touch of scalding water. That's Lewand's drink of choice every day. Now there's a serious coffee man right there.

h. Thanks, JW Marriott, for the Starbucks being open at 4 a.m. today, when I desperately needed it.

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