The Patriots’ defensive game plan for Super Bowl XLVI became pretty clear from the get-go: They weren’t going to let Giants receiver Victor Cruz beat them.
Using a variety of double-teaming concepts in the slot and outside, New England executed its strategy, holding Cruz to 25 yards on four receptions.
So Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks stepped up.
Manningham, in particular, was often left in one-on-one situations against defensive backs. Although Manningham’s tendency to lose track of the sideline cost the Giants one would-be first-down reception in the second half, he more than made up for the miscue by creating enough separation to secure a perfectly placed over-the-shoulder throw from Eli Manning on the Giants’ final possession.
The catch went for 38 yards and was the highest-impact non-touchdown play of the Super Bowl. Eight plays later to finish the drive, tailback Ahmad Bradshaw fell into the end zone for the game-winning score. Manningham finished with 73 yards on five grabs.
Nicks, meanwhile, posted game-highs in receptions (10) and yards (109). Seven of his catches went for first downs.
As for Manningham, the performance came with good timing. He is headed for unrestricted free agency in March.