Move over David Tyree.
Mario Manningham is the new star in the Giants’ latest version of “The Catch.”
It may not have been a helmet catch like Tyree’s in the Super Bowl four years ago, but it was just as clutch and just as timely — and Tyree was there to see it.
Manningham made a magnificent over-the-shoulder catch and managed to stay inbounds on the opening play of a game-winning, 88-yard touchdown drive that carried New York to another come-from-behind win over the Patriots in the NFL championship game on Sunday.
Manningham’s 38-yard reception — with two defenders bearing down on him — propelled the Giants to a 21-17 win and their fourth Super Bowl title.
“We just tried to be patient,” said Manningham, who finished with five catches for 73 yards. “Got to be patient with this game. We knew big plays was going to come, we just had to take advantage of them.”
Manningham, relegated to No. 3 on the Giants’ depth chart because of knee injuries and the emergence of Victor Cruz, had three catches on the nine-play drive capped by Ahmad Bradshaw’s uncontested 6-yard touchdown run.
His acrobatic catch wasn’t as improbable as Tyree’s grab that led the Giants to a 17-14 win over New England.
“In those situations you are always looking to see who is going to be the guy,” Tyree said in the Giants’ locker room. “I am so happy for that man, fighting through those injuries and emerging to help his team.”
Tyree said Manningham’s catch didn’t bring back memories of his reception in 2008 “but the more I thought about how important it was, it should.”
“I think they are both spectacular catches,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. “I think with Mario’s earlier tonight, the way he kept his feet inbounds and held on to the ball going out of bounds was a remarkable thing.”
Manningham’s big moment came after offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride saw New England’s defense playing its two safeties deep and shading them to the right side to cover Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
Running a go pattern up the left sideline on a first-and-10 from their own 12 and down 17-15, Manningham made the catch between safeties Patrick Chung and Sterling Moore and right in front of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“It was a great catch by Mario and a great throw by Eli,” Gilbride said. “He knew he was going to get hit and he kept his feet in bounds and held on.”
Manningham said he never lost track of where his feet were.
“It was a great ball. I knew where I was on the sideline. I knew I didn’t have that much room and it’s a good thing I wear (size) 11s because if I wore 11 1/2s I would not have been in.”
Belichick didn’t hesitate to challenge the catch, which was also contested by Moore and Chung. Referee John Parry reviewed it and saw that Manningham had both feet inbounds, putting the Giants at midfield.
“Sometimes you play great defense and they make a great throw and a great catch,” Belichick said.
Manning went back to Manningham on the next three plays. On the first, the receiver ran the wrong pattern, but he followed that with catches of 16 and 2 yards to move the ball to the 32-yard line.
Two passes to Nicks and a couple of runs by Bradshaw got the ball to the 6, where the Patriots let Bradshaw score so they had a chance to win the game with a final drive.
Cruz, who set a single-season team record with 1,536 yards receiving, said the Giants never considered Manningham the third receiver.
“These playoffs he’s been making these great catches in great moments,” Cruz said. “It’s a credit to the way he has carried himself. I am just happy for the guy, he has made some clutch catches. It was great for him to come up big when we needed him the most. To come up big in this game and on this stage is great.”
Defensive end Osi Umenyiora said he spoke to Manningham before the game, knowing the receiver had not had the best of seasons.
“I told him earlier that he was going to do something, that he was going to make a play to help us win,” Umenyiora said. “He fulfilled my prophecy. We know what type of player he is and what type of talent he is and he came up big for us.”
Tom Brady wound up 51 yards short on the Patriots’ final drive when his desperation pass fell incomplete in the end zone with no time left, giving the Giants their second Super Bowl victory in four years.
“It’s been a wild game. It’s been a wild season,” said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who was named MVP. “We had a great tough bunch of guys. Guys who never quit and have great faith in each other. Proud of our team and the way we dealt with everything all season and came out strong.”
Nicks, who led the Giants’ receivers in the postseason, had a team-high 10 catches for 109 yards, while Cruz had four for 25, including a short touchdown.
“I feel good, man,” Nicks said. “Blessed to be part of this team, blessed to be in this situation.”