Eli Manning made some truly miserable plays and some truly remarkable ones in the 41-34 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday. He threw for more yards than all but one Giants quarterback ever had and led the most prolific offensive outburst by the team in more than 60 years.
But in a thrilling game in which Manning passed for 510 yards and led the Giants to 25 fourth-quarter points, what should have been the most mundane of plays was discussed above all others Monday.
At the end of the game, with five seconds remaining, he executed the most dramatic kneel-down since Superman genuflected to General Zod.
The Bucs fired out at the poor, defenseless Giants. Someone could have gotten hurt, Tom Coughlin reminded us. Manning wound up six yards away, knocked on his keister, and got up muttering while his offensive linemen gave a few shoves back at the Bucs. Coughlin scolded Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano at midfield.
Isn't it the Jets' backup quarterback who's supposed to be known for going down on one knee?
The principals were still sniping Monday while the rest of the sports world debated the unwritten rules of the victory formation.
"It's something that we practice," Schiano said Monday in his news conference. "To me, it's a clean, hard, tough, finish-the-game play."
Schiano said Rutgers always played that way and forced four fumbles in similar situations in the last five years. Perhaps the highest-profiled of those examples was last year against North Carolina, although the Tar Heels recovered the fumble. Rutgers also did it against Pittsburgh and West Virginia in 2009.
"I don't have any remorse or regret," Schiano added. "It's clean, hard football. It was no sneak attack. We were down, ready to go."
The Giants didn't see it that way.
"I said what I said and I believe it to be accurate with regards to the number of years that I've been in this league," Coughlin said Monday. "I've said my piece about it."
Here is what Coughlin said on Sunday: "I don't think you do that at this level. You don't do that in this league."
The league itself said otherwise. Officially, anyway.
"There is nothing further on the incident at the end of the game," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "There were no violations on the play or afterwards that would require follow-up from our office.''
Many of those who have spent a lifetime in the game sided with Schiano. Two ESPN analysts, Hall of Famer Mike Ditka and former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, saw nothing wrong with what the Bucs did.
"There were several times in my career in Washington, in New York, where we did the same thing," Pierce said yesterday. "I have no problem with it."
"Hey, you've got pads and a helmet on, the game's not over, play," Ditka said. "Tom's wrong about this. No matter what he says, he's wrong."
One former coach did side with the Giants. In a column for Fox Sports, Brian Billick called the Bucs' move "bush league."
"It is not illegal, but it is definitely dirty," Billick wrote. "However he tries to sell himself on the idea that it is his team fighting until the very end, that isn't going to fly with the other coaches of the NFL, or any level."
Even Schiano ultimately conceded that there is no right answer on the topic.
"Some people disagree with that, and that certainly makes the world go around," he said. "Everybody has opinions."