INDIANAPOLIS -- For most of the season, he was the guy no one talked about. Victor Cruz was the salsa dancer. Hakeem Nicks was The Dream. And Mario Manningham? Well, he was the one who sort of fell through the cracks.
Well, no more. Manningham's 38-yard catch on the winning drive Sunday night will be played and replayed by Giants fans. Without it, the Giants probably wouldn't be the NFL champions, wouldn't be celebrating a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium.
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Down 17-15 with 3:46 remaining, the Giants began their last drive at their 12-yard line. On the first play, Manningham raced up the left sideline and made a perfect over-the-shoulder catch between two defenders. His feet landed inbounds as he fell right in front of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
With the Patriots double-teaming Cruz the entire game, Eli Manning kept going to Manningham on the winning drive. Manning threw in his direction three straight times after his big catch and he caught two of them for 18 yards. Five plays later, the Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown on Ahmad Bradshaw's 6-yard run with 57 seconds left.
"We just tried to be patient," said Manningham, who finished with five catches for 73 yards. "We knew the big plays were going to come, we just had to take advantage of them."
Manning credited Manningham with making a great play.
"They had us covered pretty well to the right. I looked that way. I saw I had the safety cheated in a bit and threw it down the [left] sideline," Manning said. "It was a great catch by him, keeping both feet in. That's a huge play in the game right there."
Some compared the play to David Tyree's helmet catch that helped give the Giants a Super Bowl win over the Patriots four years ago, but Manningham wasn't one of them. "We won the game. You can't really compare catches," he said. "He caught the ball with his helmet. I had good footwork."
Manningham wasn't the only receiver making big catches. Nicks led Giants receivers with 10 catches for 109 yards and Cruz caught four passes for 25 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, his first TD of the postseason.