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Kovacevic: The day defense died in the NFL

| Monday, Feb. 6, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS — Ahmad Bradshaw darted through a hole in the defensive line so immense, so inviting he could have strutted those half-dozen yards untouched into the end zone. And it should have been glorious. A go-ahead touchdown in the Super Bowl with a minute to go. The stuff of NFL Films from now until eternity.

Only he didn't want to.

He stutter-stepped as he neared the goal line.

Then screeched to a near-crawl.

Then precariously planted his right foot a millimeter shy of the chalk.

Then, finally, spun 180 degrees to try to buy an extra millisecond before tipping backward into the end zone.

The most powerful facet of Super Bowl XLVI, as with any, is the outcome: New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17. Eli Manning was named MVP after an 88-yard drive that resulted in Bradshaw's reluctant touchdown. And Tom Brady, bidding to match Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as four-ring quarterbacks, lost only after a midfield heave dropped in the end zone.

All good stuff.

Highly entertaining, as has been the case annually in recent years.

"One of the great Super Bowls you'll see," New York coach Tom Coughlin said.

But a backward game-winning touchdown that the defense wanted and the offense didn't?

Let this go down as, symbolically if not officially, the day defense died in the NFL. Or at least greatly diminished in importance.

The reason Ahmad Bradshaw tried to forfeit his touchdown was that Manning yelled out to do so. And the reason Manning yelled out was that he saw New England's defense part its own sea to invite Bradshaw to score the go-ahead points, trusting not in their defense but in Brady if he got the ball back. And the reason Manning and Bradshaw sought at the last second to stall their score was, of course, out of respect to Brady.

Quite a show of respect there.

Again, this was the scenario: The Patriots had a 17-15 lead, the Giants had second-and-goal at the 6, and the Patriots called their second of three allotted timeouts with 1:04 left.

Was it a sure thing the Giants would wind the clock down and settle for a field goal and one-point lead?

Not according to Coughlin, who said no order came from the sideline for anyone to lie down.

"You've got to understand a field goal wasn't necessarily going to win that game," Coughlin said.

Manning confirmed it didn't come from the huddle, either.

"That's on me," he said. "Once you saw the way their defense just kind of got out of the way, it's up to me to let Ahmad know he shouldn't score there. He tried."

Was it a sure thing the Giants would score a touchdown there?

That they wouldn't fumble?

That they'd make the field goal?

That Brady wouldn't be able to capitalize on a shorter field if needing only to counter with a field goal?

Belichick was asked if he allowed the Giants to score and replied: "Right." He did not elaborate.

But linebacker Brandon Spikes did when asked how it felt to give that up: "It killed me. When the call came in to let them score, I was like, 'What?' I'm here to do a job. It was tough, though."

And hey, not to let the Giants off the hook, is it universally accepted wisdom to not score the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of the Super Bowl?

Look, the merits of the strategy can be argued either way. But this was the most bizarre big-time moment in Super Bowl history. And if you think that's hyperbole, just try to imagine the John Facenda narration for it.

"The autumn wind is a pirate • and both teams simply lay down."

Moreover, it came on a stage in which the NFL's no-touch, pass-happy policy might have reached its pinnacle.

Manning completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown. He had time to throw, found multiple options and hit them far more often than not.

Brady nearly matched him, completing 27 of 41 for 276 yards and two touchdowns. That included an astounding 10-for-10, 100-yard drive, and a run of 16 consecutive passes that topped Montana's record by three.

Isn't it all starting to look a little too easy?

Is it any wonder so much fuss has kicked up among the Steelers' faithful — and within their South Side offices, apparently — about the importance of passing versus a more traditional approach?

Does Art Rooney II really want to see his team abandon the pass when everyone can do it and even the best teams can't stop it?

The Green Bay Packers, the NFL's best regular-season team, had the league's worst pass defense. The Patriots were next-to-last. The Giants ranked 29th and won it all.

Afterward, the Giants' peculiarly chatty kicker, Lawrence Tynes, was brought into the main news conference room for 10 minutes of questioning. Not one defensive player took to that podium.

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