INDIANAPOLIS - There were a lot of snickers last summer when Eli Manning had the audacity to inform us that he thought he was an elite quarterback.
It's not like he beat his chest and issued a proclamation. Somebody asked him whether he thought he was an elite quarterback and he responded with a truthful answer.
"What do you expect the guy to say?" Giants coach Tom Coughlin said last night after Eli led New York to its second Super Bowl title in five seasons and also collected his second Super Bowl MVP award with a 30-for-40, 296-yard, one-touchdown performance in a 21-17, come-from-behind win over the Patriots.
"What I liked was his answer and what he said a week later. He said he was just trying to be the best quarterback he can be."
Despite a Super Bowl ring on his finger, despite the fact that he had thrown for 3,200-plus yards and 20-plus touchdowns 6 years in a row, Manning has had a tough time convincing people he is an upper-echelon quarterback. The popular opinion was that quarterbacks like his brother Peyton and Tom Brady and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers were up here and Eli was down there somewhere.
After outdueling Brady in his brother's home stadium last night, no one should ever think that again. With his second Super Bowl title, Eli has proved once and for all that he is indeed an elite quarterback.
"I don't need to say anything about Eli," Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said. "I shouldn't have to say anything about Eli. Two-hundred twenty-eight countries just saw Eli. I don't have to say anything."
Two-hundred twenty-eight countries saw Manning perform his fourth-quarter magic again, completing 10 of 15 passes for 118 of his 296 yards in the final 15 minutes. Two-hundred twenty-eight countries saw him complete five of six for 74 yards on that do-or-die, game-winning, 88-yard drive, which ended with Ahmad Bradshaw running in from 6 yards out with 57 seconds left.
"We've won [the Super Bowl] 2 of the last 4 years [actually five seasons] and Eli's been the MVP both times," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Anybody who doesn't think he is a great quarterback doesn't know what they're looking at. He put this team on his shoulders the whole year."
Seven weeks ago, the Giants were in free fall after losing five of six games. A 23-10 loss to the Redskins left them on life support at 7-7. A Super Bowl title seemed like a pretty tall order at the time.
But thanks to Manning and a rejuvenated pass rush, they won their last two regular-season games, gained momentum and marched through the playoffs.
In the last five games, including last night's, Manning completed 66.3 percent of his passes and threw 12 touchdowns and just one interception in 196 pass attempts.
All season long, he has been a fourth-quarter magician. The Super Bowl marked the seventh time this season that he has orchestrated fourth-quarter comebacks. He finished second in the league to the Packers' Rodgers in fourth-quarter passing this season with a 110.0 passer rating. Threw 15 of his 29 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. Completed 65.9 percent of his fourth-quarter passes and averaged 9.42 yards per attempt in the fourth quarter.
"We went out there fully expecting to score," Giants guard Chris Snee said. "Believe it or not, we love that situation. We love having it on our shoulders to go down and score another touchdown. It's just something we rehearse all the time and practice religiously. Eli is just so at ease in that situation."
Said Manning: "We've had a bunch of [fourth-quarter comebacks] this year. The whole second half - right before halftime, New England drove down and got a touchdown [to take a 10-9 lead] and then drove down and scored again on the first possession of the second half. That could've sucked the momentum right out of us, but we responded."
The Patriots' lead stood at 17-15 late in the third quarter after the Giants scored on a 33-yard Lawrence Tynes field goal. That was still the score when the Giants got the ball back at their own 12-yard line with 3:46 left.
Eli had the Patriots and their 31st-ranked pass defense right where he wanted them.
On the first play of the drive, Manning found wide receiver Mario Manningham down the left sideline for a 38-yard completion that gave the Giants a first down at midfield.
Manning made a perfect throw over cornerback Sterling Moore. Manningham made a perfect catch, getting both feet in bounds and holding on to the ball as he fell to the ground.
"They were in Cover-2," Manning said. "They had us covered pretty well to the right. I looked that way. I saw I had the safety [Patrick Chung] cheating in a little bit and threw it down the sideline. Mario made a great catch, keeping both feet in.
"That's a huge play in the game right there. When you're backed up, to get a 40-yard gain and get to the middle of the field . . . that way we can pace ourselves a little bit, run the ball a little bit. It was a big, big, big-time play right there."
If the Patriots had won, it would have been Brady's fourth Super Bowl title and would have tied him with his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, and Terry Bradshaw, for the most Super Bowl wins by a quarterback.
Instead, Manning collected his second, both of them against Brady and the Patriots, both of them in games in which he was named the MVP.
"I don't think that's the story," Manning said. "I think the story is the New York Giants are world champions. That's what I'm proud of. That's all that matters. The only important thing is for this organization - these guys that are on this team, the coaches - to have an opportunity to say, 'We are the world champions.' That's the story."
Together, Manning and Brady completed 57 of 81 passes. Manning matched him completion for completion.
"We as an offense have been very, very successful," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "Certainly, the trigger man [Manning] got to do his job. And I think the receiver collectively have really stepped up and made some tremendous plays. Mario did it tonight, and Victor [Cruz] and Hakeem [Nicks] have done it.
"They expect to put it in the end zone."