TORONTO - Maybe the next time Tom Coughlin goes up against Bill Belichick, he won’t be so disrespected.
Most experts figured one of the biggest advantages the New England Patriots had against the New York Giants on Sunday was Belichick, the NFL’s latest genius-in-residence.
Well, Coughlin — Mr. Meat and Potatoes — got the best of the Mr. Genius yet again. The perennially red-faced Coughlin and his staff dialed up the right plays, at the right times, for the second straight Super Bowl against the Patriots.
Here were the three best coaching moves in Super Bowl XLVI by Coughlin and his staff:
1. THE BOMB. Cris Collinsworth of NBC was probably right when he said this play will be replayed during Super Bowl weeks for the next 50 years.
The Patriots were clinging to a two-point lead, 17-15, and had just pinned the Giants at their own 12 after a punt. Only 3:46 remained — plenty of time for quarterback Eli Manning to move the Giants 88 yards, even if they had only one timeout left.
New York offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride wasted no time in calling for a “go” route — a long bomb — to wideout Mario Manningham on the very first play. Manning dropped back and threw a perfect deep pass to Manningham down the left sideline.
Manningham had barely shaken free from cornerback Devin McCourty, and free safety Patrick Chung was a step late coming over to break it up. A fourth-year player, Manningham made the brilliant catch, getting both feet just inside the white line before both McCourty and Chung smashed him out of bounds.
McCourty had hesitated just a split-second before chasing Manningham down the sideline, no doubt expecting that the Giants quarterback again would be looking for a short or intermediate route, as he’d been doing all game long.
The bomb was unexpected, and it blew up in the Patriots’ faces. The entire game changed on this play.
Just like that, the Giants had it at midfield, with all kinds of time to score, especially by Eli Manning’s internal clock. Indeed, the Giants moved downfield so fast from there, they couldn’t help themselves but score the winning touchdown with a minute still left in the game.
Still, that bomb to Manningham was a bold call. Gilbride will never radio in a gutsier play in his life.
2. STICKING WITH THE RUNNING GAME. There were times in the first half when the Giants’ bruising running-back duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs appeared unstoppable. Too many times, though, the Patriots defence smothered them for short gains.
With Manning having so much success finding Hakeem Nicks and his other receivers in the first half, some coaches might have veered away from the run as the game progressed — especially once New England took control of the game for a while there in the third quarter.
But the Giants kept hammering away at the Patriots on the ground.
While the Giants finished with only 114 rushing yards, the threat of Bradshaw and Jacobs busting a big one was always there. The Patriots could never ignore them as long as the Giants kept giving the ball to one or the other, and that undoubtedly created more space for Manning’s receivers to get open. Especially on the winning drive.
The rushing attack became much more than a mere threat at the very end, when Bradshaw pounded it for 14 of the final 18 yards on the game-winning drive, including scoring the decisive touchdown on a six-yard burst.
That’s when the coaching staff’s devotion to the run game paid off.
3. NOTHING CUTE, NOTHING FANCY. If the Giants called any trick plays, or any fancy stuff, I don’t remember it. No onside kick to start the second half, as New Orleans pulled a couple of years ago. No flea-flickers, no halfback passes. Not even an end-around.
The Giants didn’t get cute when they were ahead, and didn’t panic once they’d lost all their early momentum. They just kept doing what they do — waiting for the big play that inevitably had always come when they needed it most throughout the playoffs.
The thing is about trick plays, people remember and praise the ones that work. The ones that flop, or end in disaster? Not so much. The latter might make the NFL Films blooper reels, but they can also lose you the Super Bowl.
Most football games are lost, not won. And Coughlin and staff called a great game.
They just went with the bread and butter that they, and their players, all know and trust will work.