GLENDALE, Ariz. -- While all the talk leading up to Super Bowl XLII centered on perfection, on how the New England Patriots were one of the best teams ever, we forgot to acknowledge one simple fact: The New York Giants were playing better at this time of the year than their opponents.
We should've realized what was happening in the postseason. We do now. The Giants have their Vince Lombardi Trophy after a 17-14 win over the Patriots. Here are 10 things we learned from arguably the greatest Super Bowl ever.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning finalized his stunning postseason run -- as well as the Super Bowl MVP award -- with that game-winning touchdown drive in the final minutes. He also gave the Giants a play that probably will turn up on every Super Bowl highlight film for decades to come. When Manning spun out of what seemed to be a sure sack with 59 seconds left and delivered a 32-yard strike to David Tyree, he showed the kind of heart every team covets from its leader. It's fair to say that was one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history.
"I was watching Eli after Randy Moss caught that touchdown pass [to give New England a 14-10 lead with 2:42 remaining in the game]," said Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who watched his younger brother from a stadium suite Sunday. "There wasn't any panic in his eyes. His mind-set was, 'Hey, we have got 2:45 left and we have some timeouts. We'll have the ball last, and we'll make it happen.'"
It looks as though Plaxico Burress now has his own place alongside Joe Namath in the New York sports scene. He had only two catches Sunday, but his second one turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. You have to give the guy credit: He had the confidence to say what the Giants privately believed. And you also have to applaud him for continuing to stay focused when the ball wasn't coming his way.
What you can question, however, is why New England opted to single-cover 6-foot-5 Burress with 5-9 cornerback Ellis Hobbs on Burress' game-winning, 13-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds left.
"They were basically double-teaming me all night," Burress said. "We were just waiting for that one time where we could get him over there in single coverage. I gave him a slant fake; he bit on it; and Eli put it up there for me to come down with it."
New York definitely got off to the kind of start it needed. By controlling the football for 19 minutes, 27 seconds, in the first half, the Giants kept the Pats' prolific offense on the sideline while gaining plenty of confidence. The first quarter was especially critical; New York held the ball for nearly 10 minutes while converting a Super Bowl-record four third-down opportunities on that first drive. That possession was enough to make the Giants see that this game wouldn't overwhelm them.
"We hit them in the mouth time and time again," New York wide receiver Amani Toomer said. "They realized real early that we weren't backing down from them."
Added New England wide receiver Randy Moss: "I think their intensity from the beginning snap to the end of the game was really higher than ours. We just couldn't meet that intensity."
This game would've been much different early on if the Patriots' defense had been able to hold on to the football. Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled in the second quarter, but wrangled the ball away from Pats linebacker Pierre Woods to maintain possession at the New York 30-yard line. The Patriots also couldn't recover a fumble that another New England linebacker, Adalius Thomas, forced after sacking Manning later in the quarter. Finally, Pats cornerback Randall Gay dropped what looked like a sure interception of an errant Manning pass intended for Steve Smith.
Sure, Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs intercepted Manning early in that period, but New England thrives on converting turnovers into points. It simply couldn't come up with enough of them.
The Giants didn't have anything positive to say about Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour after their Super Bowl win. Apparently, Seymour told some New York offensive players that they "should be ready to go home" before their last drive. That comment irritated Toomer, and it still bothered Giants running back Brandon Jacobs in the locker room.
"I'll give you a quote on Seymour," Jacobs said. "You can write that he's a soft [expletive]. He said we should get ready to go home. Well, now he's on the team that went 18-1."
The Giants clearly learned a thing or two about defending the Patriots offense after losing their regular-season finale to New England. One essential key was to contain Moss, especially if you want to limit the big plays. In that first meeting, Moss produced six receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns. On Sunday, he continued to be the same nonfactor he was throughout the postseason. Although he scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 left, he finished with only five receptions for 62 yards.
"We had a game plan, and we just didn't execute it," Moss said. "We don't point fingers around here. We just didn't play well as a unit."
New England coach Bill Belichick obviously doesn't need spying tactics to see everything. His decision to challenge a punt play on the Patriots' opening drive of the second half -- he alleged that Giants reserve linebacker Chase Blackburn didn't reach the sideline in time to avoid a penalty for 12 men on the field -- allowed the Patriots to maintain possession at a critical point in the game.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, the Giants' defense wasn't going to cave in the face of that momentum. New York managed to force New England into another fourth-down situation that ended with another interesting choice by Belichick (he went for it on fourth-and-13 from the Giants' 31-yard line instead of attempting a 48-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski). Note to Belichick: Those three points could've helped your team in the end.
New York's third-best defensive end looked like a future Hall of Famer in this game. In the first half alone, Tuck led the team with six tackles, sacked Tom Brady twice and forced a fumble on the second takedown. Before Tuck started taking over, the Giants seemed to be feeling their way through the early moments of the game. After that turning point, it was apparent the Patriots would have protection problems throughout the contest.
"We just tried to keep him off his timing," Tuck said. "That's what you have to do against a quarterback that good."
You have to admit it was strange to see the Patriots' Pro Bowl quarterback harassed as much as he was in this game. He was hit on more than half of his first 17 pass attempts in the first half alone -- the Giants sacked him three times and knocked him down six other times -- and Brady actually looked rattled at times. He couldn't stand in the pocket long enough to throw deep to Moss, and he even seemed confused at times. The bottom line: Brady faced his toughest challenge of the season at the worst possible time (he was sacked five times).
Said Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo: "We never put a number on it, but we said all week that we had to hit [Brady] whether he completed a pass or not. But that guy also is a warrior. When he was leading them down the field [for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 left], he wasn't thinking about the hits he took earlier in that game."
The impact of Faulk's left hamstring injury -- he limped off the field after the Patriots' first possession of the second half -- can't be underestimated. Faulk had been the best player on the New England offense in the AFC Championship Game win over San Diego two weeks ago, and he was just starting to give New York fits with his receptions out of the backfield Sunday. Without him at full strength, the Pats lost one of Brady's favorite third-down options. And as talented as Laurence Maroney is, he's not as clutch in those situations as Faulk can be.
"Kevin Faulk is as dangerous on third down as [Patriots wide receiver] Wes Welker is," Giants safety Gibril Wilson said. "They lost a lot when he wasn't out there."
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.