This became a really interesting game in the final two minutes.
First off, as I wrote for Slate and Deadspin, the big thing from a strategy perspective was the final go-ahead touchdown of the game. Belichick may have made the gutsiest call in Super Bowl history by apparently instructing his defense to allow the score with a minute to play.
Had the Giants run out the clock in favor of a chip shot field goal, it would have extinguished any chance the Patriots had. Instead, they had a minute and one timeout to respond. It wasn't clear if Bradshaw was tippy-toeing trying to go down at the one, or if he was just burning a couple extra seconds prior to scoring like video-gamers are know to do. Either way, he should have taken a knee.
Beyond that, Eli Manning was a defensible choice as MVP, with 0.70 WPA and 12.3 EPA. But I thought the real difference in the game was the battle in the trenches. The NYG defensive front won the battle, handing the NE offensive line -0.24 WPA and -0.4 EPA. They had only 2 sacks, but more importantly they put Tom Brady on the ground 7 times. They added four tackles for losses and held the NE running game to a lower than typical success rate.
The big stars on the NYG defense were Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. Tuck had 0.24 +WPA, 4.7 +EPA, and a Success Count (SC) of 4. Pierre-Paul notched 0.20 +WPA, 5.1 +EPA and a 6 success plays. Blackburn made the one interception of the game, but it was so deep it didn't move the needle very much. He made a bigger impact with his tackles, earning a 1.14 Tackle Factor for the game.
There weren't a lot of spectacular plays, and the Excitement Index for the game was comparatively low for a game that was rarely outside a single score. The biggest play, in terms of WP, was a 16-yard pass to Manningham on the final drive that put the Giants on the NE 34. It was the play immediately following the amazing catch by Manningham down the left sideline. Even though that was a bigger gain, it wasn't as big in terms of WP because the following play put the Giants on the verge of FG range and put them over 0.50 WP since just prior to halftime.
There wasn't a single 4th down conversion attempt in the game, (at least until the very final drive). Four of the 4th downs were errors significant, defined arbitrarily as costing more than 0.01 WP. NE should have gone for it on 4th and 4 from the 11 and on 4th and 1 from their own 29, both in the 2nd quarter. Although the latter situation would have been highly unconventional for a conversion attempt, it was when they were down by 9. NYG should have gone for it on 4th and 4 from the 41 in the 2nd quarter and on 4th and 10 from the 43 with 9 minutes to play in the 4th quarter. But these were relatively small errors, the biggest one costing only about 0.02 WPA.
To my amateur eyes, it appeared the refs swallowed their flags. The Giants were holding and Patriots were getting away with contact with the receivers. The vast majority of penalties were the "obvious" objective ones--12 men on the field, false starts, offsides, illegal substitutions. There were very few penalties like holding, illegal contact, pass interference, etc. Maybe it really was just a clean game, but I suspect refs are generally reluctant to alter the outcome of a championship game--at least the ones not named Bill Leavy.
This caps another highly unlikely championship run for the Giants, who were 7-7 coming off a week 15 loss to the last-place Redskins in what was thought to be a must-win game. This was a much better Giants team than the plucky 2007 squad. A few weeks ago I wrote that they reminded me of the 2010 Packers--a very good team that had some bad luck in the regular season and had to squeak into the playoffs before going on a run. The Giants offense was solidly above average all season, but the defense only got traction in the second half of the year.
Congratulations, Giants fans.
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