INDIANAPOLIS -- Elite and Eli. One and the same. And now there are two Super Bowl championships and two MVPs to prove it.
"This isn't about one person," Manning insisted. "This is about a team coming together."
A team led by a quarterback who months ago claimed -- to snickers throughout the league -- that he belonged in the same stratosphere as Brady, and then proved it.
"Certainly Eli has had a great season. He made some great throws in the fourth quarter, and they deserved to win," Brady said.
The ploy failed.
"Ball was inside the 10-yard line, a 90-percent field goal conversion," he said. "Sure, could have done a better job in a lot of things."
It was a classic I-can-top-that showdown with the outcome in doubt until the last desperation pass fell to the turf as the last second ticked off the clock. Manning started the game with nine straight completions, a Super Bowl record; Brady hit 16 straight over the second and third quarters, breaking Joe Montana's Super Bowl record of 13.
Manning finished 30 for 40 for 296 yards and one touchdown, while Brady was 27 for 41 for 276 yards with two TDs and one interception.
"It's been a wild game, a wild season," Manning said.
Manning led six comeback victories during the season and set an NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes. He showed that brilliance in the clutch on the winning drive, completing five passes, starting with a sensational 38-yard sideline catch by Mario Manningham.
On second down at the Patriots 6 and with only one timeout remaining, Belichick had his defense stand up as Bradshaw took the handoff. Bradshaw thought about stopping short of the end zone, then tumbled in untouched.
"I was yelling to him, 'Don't score, don't score,'" Manning said. "He tried to stop, but he fell into the end zone."
"Certainly it wasn't one play that was the reason we lost," Brady said. "Everybody feels they could do a little more. I'd rather come to this game and lose than not get here."
All around him was the wild celebration by the Giants, NFL champions for the eighth -- and perhaps most unlikely -- time.
"Great toughness, great faith and great plays by a number of guys today," Manning said, deflecting some of the attention. Still, he beat Brady. And he went one better than Peyton, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback who has one ring of his own but didn't play this season as he recovered from neck surgery.
It was the fifth trip to a Super Bowl for Brady and Belichick, tying the record. And it looked like a successful one when they stormed back from a 9-0 deficit and led 17-9 in the third quarter. But the Giants, who reached New England territory on every possession except a kneeldown at the end of the first half, got field goals of 38 and 33 yards from Tynes. And it looked like Tynes, who kicked them into the Super Bowl four years ago at Green Bay and again this year at San Francisco, both in overtime, would get called on again.
Then Belichick, known to try just about anything in a game, took a risk that didn't pay off.
"What I was concerned with was these guys making their own history," Coughlin said. "This is such a wonderful thing, these guys carving their own history."
New England had the ball for all of one play in the first 11 1-2 minutes, and that play was an utter failure, a rare poor decision by Brady. After Steve Weatherford's punt was downed at the New England 6, Brady dropped to pass in the end zone and had time. With everyone covered and Giants defensive end Justin Tuck finally coming free to provide pressure, Brady heaved the ball downfield while still in the pocket.
Manning, meanwhile, couldn't have been more on target early, hitting six receivers in the first period. He also was aided by Ahmad Bradshaw, who hardly looked like a running back with a bad foot. Bradshaw broke a 24-yard run, and New England made another critical mistake by having 12 men on the field on a third-and-3 on which the Giants fumbled.
Manning's first incompletion didn't come until 1:19 into the second quarter.
Soon after, when the Patriots had a three-and-out and Pierre-Paul blocked another throw, Belichick and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien had a quick discussion. Then O'Brien, soon to take over as Penn State coach, went over to the struggling Brady.
The talk must have helped. On the final series of the opening half, Brady was masterful. Starting at his 4, and ignoring the last time the Patriots began a series in the shadow of the end zone, he was vintage Brady.
With New York's vaunted pass rush disappearing, Brady went 10-for-10 for 98 yards, capping the drive that included two Patriots penalties with Woodhead's 4-yard TD reception with 8 seconds to go in the half. Hernandez and Woodhead each had four catches on the drive that, stunningly, put New England ahead despite being outplayed for so much of the first 30 minutes.
Brady kept firing -- and hitting -- in the third quarter, with five more completions. The Giants didn't come within shouting distance of the record-setting quarterback. He capped a 79-yard drive to open the second half with a 12-yard TD to Hernandez, but then the game turned. Again.
Consecutive field goals by Lawrence Tynes of 38 and 33 yards brought New York within 17-15. Brady then threw deep for his tight end after weaving away from two pass rushers. His throw was short, and Chase Blackburn picked it off early in the fourth quarter.
Although the Giants moved into New England territory again, as they did on every drive to that point, they bogged down and punted.
In the end, though, New York made the critical plays, just as it did in 2008. With Manning in the lead.
"Two hundred and twenty-eight countries just saw Eli," running back Brandon Jacobs said. "I don't have to say anything."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press