GLENDALE, Ariz. - It wasn't the "No. 1" that the New England Patriots were expecting.
After a season in which victories became routine for the 18-0 Patriots, a truly outstanding performance by the New York Giants hung a digit in the loss column for the Patriots in the game that mattered the most.
Eli Manning found Plaxico Burress in the corner of the end zone to stake a 17-14 lead with 35 seconds to play, and the Giants' defense harrassed and held Tom Brady on the Patriots' final desperate drive to preserve the win Sunday in Super Bowl XLII.
The Giants' defensive line - LDE Michael Strahan, NT Fred Robbins, DT Justin Tuck, RDE Osi Umenyiora - anchoring a defense that led the league in sacks during the regular season, pressured Brady all evening, sacking him five times.
There were other highlights, of course, but the first one that comes to mind for me is Manning's escape of a sack on their go-ahead scoring drive. Facing a third-and-5 at his own 44 with less than a minute to play, Manning spun out of the grasp of DE Jarvis Green (97) and LB Adalius Thomas (96) before regaining just enough composure to find David Tyree at the Patriots' 23. Tyree went up for it like a jump ball and clinched the ball to his head while fighting off Pats S Rodney Harrison for a clutch grab. Amazing play, reminiscent of Steve McNair's escape during the Tennessee Titans' final near-TD drive against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Safe to say, Big Blue Interactive will be abuzz for sometime about this one. Patriots Planet ... not so much.
Meanwhile, the 2007 Patriots join the ranks of the 1934 and 1942 Chicago Bears, who went unbeaten until losing in the league championship game. So yes, 1972 Miami Dolphins, you can pop your rancid champagne as the only team to seal the deal.
It makes me wonder about some games that weren't:
* The Super Bowl that wasn't; how the Packers would've fared against New England if they could've gotten it done in the NFC Championship game two weeks ago. It's a sickening recollection of the 1996 NFC Championship game when the Cowboys trounced the Packers and went on to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
* And even about the Packers' NFC Wild Card game Jan. 4, 1999, when they got jobbed out of what should've been a Jerry Rice fumble that would've sealed the win and sent them to Atlanta, then possibly Minnesota, then possibly a rematch with Denver in Super Bowl XXXIII.
* And, I suppose, no bitter recollection of missed football opportunities is complete without wondering how the Packers would've fared at Carolina for the 2004 NFC Championship game had the Pack's defense been able to hold Philly on the now-legendary 4th-and-26 ... or if Favre hadn't panicked and thrown up a duck that got picked off in overtime ... or if Ahman Green had scored on 4th-and-goal, or if the Packers had gone for it on 4th-and-1 inside Eagles territory instead of punting ... (hm, guess I'm still not over that one).
Had a good time, though. Bubba and Sara came up from Neenah with Ron and Don, and our friend Joni joined us. Had some Italian beef roasting in the crock pot all day, and washed it down with a big sandwich cookie decorated up as a Super Bowl party favor, which was sugary enough to malnourish an African nation for a month.
No Pro Bowl party next weekend, but hopefully a couple of folks over to watch the Daytona 500 the Sunday after that. Then ... pitchers and catchers report and we embark on baseball season.