Giants O-line steps up in crunch time for Manning in NY Life Protection Index

NORTHBROOK, Ill. (STATS) - When it mattered most, Eli Manning received just enough protection to help lead the New York Giants to their second Super Bowl victory in five years.

On the other side of the ball, the Giants defense stepped up its pressure at just the right times to bring Tom Brady down in critical situations and keep the New England Patriots from yet another championship.

"The offense did their job and we had to do our part," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said after New York's 21-17 victory in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday. "They put us in position to win the game."

In the highly-anticipated title rematch between two of the NFL's best when it comes to protecting their quarterback, the Giants posted a 74.2 rating in the New York Life Protection Index to top the Patriots, who graded out at 62.0 on the NFL's biggest stage in Indianapolis.

The NYLPI is a proprietary formula created by STATS LLC which measures pass protection by using metrics such as length of passes, penalties by offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.

Two weeks after Manning was sacked six times, hurried another six and knocked down 12 overall in a 20-17 overtime win at San Francisco in the NFC championship game, he stayed off the Lucas Oil Stadium turf for the most part Sunday. He was sacked three times, but hurried only once and knocked down just five in all.

For the game, Manning finished 30 of 40 for 296 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions en route to earning MVP honors for the second time. And when the game was on the line, Manning was hardly touched as he again directed a late-game rally over New England for the Lombardi Trophy.

"That last drive, looking at each other in the huddle, looking in each other's eyes, we said we're going to finish this thing," tackle David Diehl said.

Four years after leading New York on a 12-play, 83-yard drive he capped with a 13-yard TD pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining in a 17-14 win in Super Bowl XLII, Manning and Co. were at their best in the clutch again.

Trailing 17-15 with 3:46 remaining, Manning drove the Giants 88 yards in nine plays. They took the lead with 57 seconds left when the Patriots allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to score in order to give Brady time to lead the Patriots back down the field.

But the biggest play of the drive was its first. Backed up at their own 12, Manning's offensive line gave him just enough time to unleash a pinpoint throw, hitting Mario Manningham, who made a remarkable over-the-shoulder catch while keeping his feet inbounds for a 38-yard gain to midfield.

Stuck in the shadow of brother Peyton for so long, the oft-maligned younger Manning seven times has led the Giants to fourth-quarter victories.

"He is confident," coach Tom Coughlin said of Manning, who became the first quarterback to complete his first nine attempts in a Super Bowl. "He looks to his teammates. He is a guy who is an outstanding leader. He has taken responsibility for his team."

And Manning's line has taken responsibility for him. The unit finished eighth in the NYLPI rankings at 71.7. It was whistled for one false start and one holding call Sunday, and was critical in allowing New York to hold the ball for more than 37 minutes, keeping Brady and his weapons at bay on the sideline.

Defensively, the Giants set the tempo early against New England's front five with a play that altered the game on New England's very first play.

After New York failed to score on the game's opening drive, Justin Tuck pressured Brady enough in his own end zone that the three-time Super Bowl champ hastily threw a deep incompletion down the middle of the field. But there were no receivers in the vicinity, and Brady was whistled for intentional grounding, resulting in a safety.

"Tuck, I think, was coming and about to get me. I had to get rid of it," said Brady, who was 27 of 41 for 276 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and the victim of some key dropped passes while playing with a shoulder injury suffered on Tuck's first sack in the third quarter.

Brady, who saw his protection settle down for much of the game after that, set a Super Bowl record with 16 straight completions. But he was unable to get rid of the ball on the Patriots' final drive when Tuck dropped him on third-and-10, forcing New England to call its final timeout.

Five plays later, Brady's desperation heave to the end zone was knocked down, along with the Patriots' Super Bowl chances.

In the end, Tuck sacked Brady twice and the Giants hurried him six times, knocking him down seven overall. Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul batted down two passes for a New York defense that, over the final 26 minutes, shut out a New England offense that averaged 35.8 points during the regular season.

"They had a great scheme there and they had something going there to stop our rush," said Tuck, who also helped harass Brady during New York's 24-20 win at New England on Nov. 6. "But we changed our coverage, and the secondary did a good job so we could eat up front."

Despite falling short in Indianapolis, New England fared well enough to rank fifth overall with a 77.1 rating in the final NYLPI rankings.

New Orleans' quarterback Drew Brees enjoyed a record-setting season thanks to some consistently strong protection that helped the Saints record an NYLPI-season high 87.9 rating - the only rating above 80.0.

Plagued by a late season-ending thumb injury to quarterback Jay Cutler, the Chicago Bears ranked last at 43.2.

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