It was an uncouth moment for championship-level football, the awkwardness of such a call — "intentional grounding, safety." An unnatural score. It temporarily knocked the air out of a game that was still trying to find its legs and get into a flow.
But yes, Tom Brady was under heat when he let it fly, and nobody was within 100 miles of the ball when it came down. And for only the second time in the history of record keeping, a Super Bowl scoreboard read 2-to-0. This was with nine minutes still to play in the first quarter.
Safeties are odd, sneaky creatures. They have a little internal clock, a sort of timing mechanism built into them, like a jack-in-the-box … or a bomb. The team that allows one tries to shrug it off and get on with life, like New England did Sunday night. In fact, the Patriots battled back from 9-0 down and then held the lead until the very last minute of the game.
But a safety has a way of making trouble twice — first on the scoreboard, then again in late-game strategies.
Without that two-pointer, it would have been 17-13, New England, instead of 17-15 as the Giants' final march got under way. Without that two-pointer, New York wouldn't have been able to tease the Patriots the way it did near the end (TD? FG?) and make them cash a treasured timeout. And the Pats certainly wouldn't have allowed that walk-in touchdown. New York would have been forced to pound out the last handful of yards if they wanted them. All these would-haves …
Without the safety, a Giants' touchdown would have made it 20-17. Now all Brady needed was a field goal to get into overtime. And Brady's comeback legacy is built on long field goal tries … Vinatieri from 45, from 48, etc.
Safeties … football's little time bombs. Careful, they often go off twice. That's what happened to New England.
Yes, the Giants' defense was stiff and kept New England to its smallest point total of the season. But Brady and his pass catchers had chances to steal the game in the closing minute. People were open, but nobody could come up clutch. Reminded me of the final Steelers possession a year ago, down 31-25, their klutzy five-play scramble that went nowhere and died against Green Bay.
On the haywire Brady-to-Welker play, one drive earlier, all of the media finger-pointing about who's at fault? Call it equal guilt: Brady should have delivered a better throw … and Welker should have snagged the thing, a catch he insists he has made 1,000 times. He's not bragging. This is Mr. Magnet Hands. That's why he's Welker.
"It always comes down to one or two plays in this game," says the one-time Tom Terrific, now 3-2 in these Super Bowls. "And if you make it, you're celebrating. If you don't, you don't sleep for a week."
NBC and Cris Collinsworth waited anxiously all game to pull out their "Cushion" chart, the graphic designed to knock Mario Manningham for giving Eli crummy angles on his sideline patterns.
Finally, a chance, with 9:41 to play, after a long incompletion. Maybe it was a fair knock but it felt contrived. You could almost hear the screaming in Collinsworth's ear from the production boys — "OK, there it is, go … use it … USE IT!"
"I've seen Mario Manningham have this issue in the past," Collinsworth explained. "He fades his deep routes, and when he does that he leaves Eli nowhere to throw the ball. He's got plenty of room … but watch how he goes straight to the sideline. In doing that, he drives himself out of bounds."
But what about that other Manningham fade, the spectacular 38-yarder that got the final Giants drive going, with Eli delivering it to Manningham betwixt two Pats defenders and about an inch of sideline?
"Absolutely brilliant," Collinsworth said.
The "Cushion" chart quietly got shoved under the seat. No mention of any screwed-up pattern. And why?
'Cause Mario held on, brother.
Overall a swell job by NBC in holding the nonsense to a minimum during its telecast. One for the purists, or as close as it's ever going to get.
No dancing robots and cheesy metal jams, Fox's preferred method of audience torture … no celeb fawning from Joe Buck, who spends a chunk of the game pointing out A-Rod and Miley Cyrus and Happy Sandler and the likes.
XLVI comes down to a final Brady mortar soaring toward the endzone, a nail-shredder for sure. So why is it taking so long for Peter King to issue his annual proclamation of "Best Super Bowl Ever?"
Maybe Pete's finally thinking it through this year, waiting until the roller coaster comes to a complete stop, soaking in a tub of ice, before slamming down that gavel again.
Fresh odds set on the 49ers taking it all next season at 18-1. That's worse than the Jets, worse than the Eagles, worse than the Chargers — none of whom made the '11 playoffs. Take it as a not-so-subtle poke from Vegas to Jim Harbaugh … "upgrade the QB."
Tom Danyluk is an award-winning freelance writer based in Chicago. His book on pro football, "The Super '70s," is available at Amazon.com. You can contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.