INDIANAPOLIS — Former University of Michigan receiver Mario Manningham made the catch New England’s Wes Welker did not make. It’s a main reason why the New York Giants, and not the New England Patriots, have the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“That’s what it comes down to in football,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told reporters. “It’s one play. Certainly, you look at our game four years ago, and it was a miracle play that they make. We had a chance to make one of those today and didn’t come up with it. It always comes down to one or two plays in this game. If you make it you’re celebrating. If you don’t, you don’t sleep for a week.”
Brady, also a former UM star, was referring to the miracle play made by Giants receiver David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII, when he used his helmet to secure the ball under intense pressure from the Patriots secondary.
Manningham’s catch was not quite as theatrical as Tyree’s, but it had the same effect as it thrust the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XLVI, again over the Patriots. His catch will forever link him to Tyree in Giants’ lore. His 38-yard catch late in the fourth quarter was the linchpin that allowed the Giants to score the game-winning touchdown with 57 seconds left, culminating an 88 yard drive.
“Eli [Manning] put a great ball up there,” Manningham said. “After I caught that, man, I kind of figured like, ‘We’re about to win this.’ It gave us confidence, getting way down there, knowing you have three minutes left or something like that.”
Manningham might not have gotten a chance to play the part of hero, though, if Welker hadn’t turned himself into the anti-hero only seconds earlier. Though Welker led the league with 122 catches and had only five drops this season, he dropped the biggest one of his career. The Patriots held a 17-15 lead with 4:06 remaining when Brady, from the Giants 44, had Welker wide open at the 20. Welker couldn’t hold on.
“It’s one of those plays I’ve made a thousand times,” Welker said. “Just didn’t make it. I’ll have to live with that.”
The Patriots punted two plays later, and on the Giants’ first snap, Manning found Manningham single covered on a go-route against a Cover 2 defense. He squeezed both feet down as he latched onto an over the shoulder pass.
“I saw the safety cheating a little bit and threw it down the sideline,” Manning said. “Mario made a great catch, even better was him keeping both feet in. That was a huge play in the game because we were backed up and to get a 40-yard gain in that situation to the middle of the field, allowed us to pace ourselves a little bit. It was a big-time play right there.”
Said receiver Hakeem Nicks: “Mario’s play pushed us over the top. It was clutch and he made the catch at the right time.” Manningham added “I did not have to make a catch like Tyree’s or leap over five people. It was more a great throw from Manning. He makes the plays when we really need them.”
Manningham finished with five catches for 73 yards, three of them coming on the game-winning drive for 56 yards.
“It was great for him to come up big when we needed him most,” receiver Victor Cruz said. “He’s been coming up big this entire playoff run and to come up big in this game on this stage is just great.”
With the Giants trailing 17-15 late in the fourth quarter on their own 12, Manningham’s catch is very similar to Tyree’s, whose grab with New York trailing 14-10 late in the fourth quarter propelled the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XLVII. Thus “The Catch II.”
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII.