The 2007 New York Giants were a team that spent the season on a roller-coaster ride that often seemed ready to ride off the tracks, but finished with perhaps the greatest high in the history of the NFL, as they won three straight playoff games, each one more memorable than the first, concluding with a Super Bowl victory.
New York started the season 0-2, losing a wide-open passing shootout in Dallas on the opening Sunday night of the season. One week later, the Giants came home and it was another passing display, although the visiting Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre were the only ones putting on the display. It was hard to believe that a defense which gave up 80 points in the two losses would be the heroes of this season before it was over.
The roller coaster then ascended upward, and the Giants won six games in a row going into their bye week. But on the far side of the bye, they lost again to Dallas and went up and down through the second half of the season before finally clinching a playoff berth in the season’s penultimate game.
New York, at 10-5, was locked into the #5 seed in the NFC playoffs as they prepared for the season finale. The opponent, the New England Patriots, was locked into the #1 seed on the AFC side. In any other circumstance, this would have been a game to rest the starters. But 2007 was no ordinary year—the Patriots were undefeated and poised to become the first team to conclude a regular season unbeaten since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978.
With history at stake, both teams came to play, and the game was flexed into the Sunday Night prime-time spot by NBC. New York played one of its best games of the year and led 28-16 in the second half. Then Tom Brady, on his way to an MVP award for the first time, led an offensive flurry that produced 22 consecutive points, the biggest of which was a 65-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss. The Patriots won and concluded their 16-0 year, but the Giants felt they had gained a lot of positive momentum to take into the postseason.
The forgotten game of the New York Giants’ 2007 playoff run is the first-round game at Tampa Bay. It’s understandable, but it’s also worth noting that Las Vegas saw the Giants as a three-point underdog on the road against a mediocre division champion who had only finished 9-7. New York trailed 7-0 early, but took a 14-7 lead and cruised in 24-14. The key was a mistake-free game from quarterback Eli Manning while the New York defense forced three turnovers.
Now it was time for the real ride to begin. The Giants had gone 0-4 in the regular season against Dallas, Green Bay and New England, three of those losses at home. The second-round game was in Dallas and if form held, the ensuing opponents would be the Packers for the NFC Championship and New England for the Super Bowl.
New York was not without weapons. Running back Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Plaxico Burress were each 1,000-yard performers. Steve Smith and Amani Toomer were good wideouts, and tight end Jeremy Shockey gave the offense an added dimension. While Manning had thrown 20 interceptions, he also threw for 3,300 yards. The defensive front four, keyed by 36-year-old Michael Strahan, Pro Bowler Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck was capable of generating pressure without the benefit of blitz packages. Even if the Giants hadn’t looked the part, they had the pieces to win a championship.
Each of the next three games was a taut back-and-forth affair, with the teams never separated by more than one score. New York played a mistake-free game in Dallas, while the Cowboys committed 11 penalties. A 1-yard Jacobs touchdown run early in the fourth quarter gave New York a 21-17 lead. Dallas had the ball with 1:50 left at midfield and moved it to the 22-yard line. But one more Cowboy mistake—a crucial illegal motion penalty—followed by a couple Tony Romo incompletions, set up a game-clinching interception from R.W. McQuarters.
The weather in Green Bay for the NFC Championship Game was positively frigid. I live in Wisconsin and a friend who went to the game told me they dressed in several layers and were still miserable. Drinking a beer was virtually impossible, because of how quickly it froze. Burress was able to manage the cold and caught 11 passes for 151 yards. The defensive front four never sacked Favre, but it kept him under constant duress.
The game was tied 20-20 late in the fourth quarter and Manning hit two key throws to set up a 35-yard field goal. Kicker Lawrence Tynes missed and Lambeau Field erupted. Then the Packers won the coin toss. The New York defense delivered though, as corner Corey Webster intercepted a Favre pass to the sidelines that was a bit underthrown. Tynes would eventually come on to try a 47-yarder. This time he came through.
Now it was one more crack at New England, as the Patriots looked to seal their place in history. The Giants, who had been touchdown underdogs at Dallas and Green Bay, were now getting 12 ½ points, according to the smart money in Las Vegas.
What happened is the New York front four played the football game of their collective lives in Phoenix. They sacked Brady five times and rarely let him get comfortable in the pocket. The New England quarterback was 29/48—a percentage that’s not great, but manageable if you’re making big plays. But the fact New York didn’t have to blitz to get pressure meant they could contain the completions, and Brady only threw for 266 yards.
In spite of this, New York still led just 10-7 in the fourth quarter. Brady led an 80-yard touchdown drive that concluded with a third-and-goal completion to Moss for a touchdown with 2:45 left. The Giants chipped away to their own 44-yard line and faced third-and-five.
The play everyone remembers from this Super Bowl is Manning flushed right, looking ready to be sacked—I was calling for an in-the-grasp sack, although after looking at the replay, realized the official was right to let it go. Manning escape and heaved a desperation pass into the middle of the field. Wide receiver David Tyree went up in traffic and caught it against his face mask for a 32-yard gain. The Giants were in business.
What’s forgotten about this game is that the Tyree play didn’t win it. The Giants still had 24 yards to get, and Manning was immediately sacked for a one-yard loss on first down. They trailed 14-10, so a field goal did them no good. Manning instead completed consecutive passes to Smith and Burress for the touchdown that delivered an improbable Super Bowl title.
Manning would get game MVP honors, although this is frankly a joke. The Giants’ defensive front was the collective hero of the game. There is precedent for multiple MVPs—in 1977, the Dallas Cowboy defensive front was so dominant that both Randy White and Harvey Martin were named co-MVPs. If you don’t want to go that route, Tuck had two sacks and would have made a worthy representative for the defensive line as a group.
What ultimately mattered though, was that there would be no 19-0 team. The 1972 Miami Dolphins, who had gone undefeated through a 14-game regular season schedule and then won the Super Bowl still had their unique place in history. The 2007 New York Giants had finished their roller coaster of a season on the highest of highs.