The inches we need are everywhere around us. Unless, of course, you are the New England Patriots. For the second time in four years, the New York Giants did the impossible and outlasted the Patriots in an enthralling Superbowl encounter. It is a further testament to the prevailing opinion that the NFL season has become a war of attrition; it is not about the best team winning, it is about the last team standing.

The most extraordinary thing about the outcome of the league’s showpiece game is the incredible ramifications that it appears to have already had on perceptions and legacies. Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have all been judged on the basis of what happened on this given Sunday. However, before we are quick to make sweeping statements we should consider that this game was decided by inches, and often these inches were outside of the control of those names mentioned above.

Tom Brady’s legacy has been called into question. He was hoping to secure his fourth ring, which would have put him in the esteemed company of Montana and Bradshaw. Instead, he lost his second consecutive Superbowl leaving his record at 3-2. To many, this is an irreparable blow to any case that is to be made for Brady being the greatest of all time.

Yet, how different it all could have been. Brady was denied a ring four years ago by a spectacular, and logic-defying, catch by David Tyree. This year, a similarly outrageous catch stole the show and ultimately proved crucial to the Patriots’ demise. It is difficult to say which was better, the Manning throw or the Manningham catch, but the combination of the two provided a Superbowl memory that will live on for decades to come. The improbability of the David Tyree catch is obvious on the surface, as the wide receiver was an unknown quantity who made no significant contributions before or since that one moment.

However, the Manningham catch was pretty improbable itself. Eli has attempted the long pass to Manningham throughout the season, with no success. The stats show that on passes of 31 yards or more this year the pair were 0/9. But in that one moment that was so critical to the game, lightening struck again and a 38 yard pass was somehow completed when it seemed unfeasible.

Brady is, therefore, two implausible catches away from being 5-0 in the Superbowl, placing himself in a whole new realm of quarterbacking excellence. We should also factor in the catches that were not made by his Patriot teammates. Wes Welker uncharacteristically dropped a pass late in the fourth quarter that would have iced the game. Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez also could not hang onto the ball on the final drive and it cost the Patriots precious seconds. Is it any wonder that Brady’s supermodel wife Giselle Bundchen was quick to retort to a heckling Giants fan after the game:

“My husband cannot ******* throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time”.

The Giants also had three fumbles which did not result in turnovers. This is not something that is attributable to skill. It is largely down to luck, and the ineptitude of the Patriots on the one play where they took to the field with twelve men. All of these factors are outside the control of Tom Brady, but they directly impact how we will view him historically.

Meanwhile, Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin have achieved an exalted status on the basis of these very same inches. There are now heated debates as to whether Eli has surpassed the achievements of his brother, Dan Marino and even Tom Brady. This is not to say that Eli is undeserving of his success. His performances on the road and late on in big games have been nothing short of remarkable. His fourth quarter stats in his two Superbowl appearances exemplify this. He is 19/28 for 270 yards, 14 first downs, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions with a QB rating of 122.6. That is the very definition of clutch. No question, Sunday was another compelling chapter in the book of Eli. But an inch here or there, and these stats become largely overshadowed. An inch here or there, and Tom Coughlin likely does not even have a job going into this season. Now, he is in the class of Landry and Parcells with two Superbowl rings, and he makes a strong case for entry into the Hall of Fame.

Sport is fascinating as it ignites such a visceral and emotional reaction from fans. In the aftermath of such an incredible spectacle, the instinct is to speak in absolutes and with a lack of perspective. The Giants were the better team on Sunday, and they were also the better team in the original matchup in 2008. However, the difference between success and failure here is the slimmest of margins. Judgments based on such margins, which often have little to do with the people we are judging, may be unfair. But then, sometimes the only way to separate and differentiate two great franchises or players is by inches.


Oggy’s Quick Slants

–       Eli Manning and Tom Brady both set Superbowl records on Sunday. Manning secured the most completions to start a Superbowl, with 9. Brady then went on a run which saw him achieve the most consecutive completions in Superbowl history, with 16.

–       How about some love for the Giants punter Steve Weatherford? Cut by the Jets last season for ‘not being good enough’, 3 of his 4 punts were downed inside the Patriots 20-yard line. The execution of his first punt led to the difficult field positioning for the Patriots which resulted in a safety.