INDIANAPOLIS BenJarvus Green-Ellis stood on the chair in front of his locker at Lucas Oil Stadium.
First, he took down his nameplate, the one with the Super Bowl logo on it.
Then he looked at the AFC Champions placard above it. He looked to either side to see if any teammates had taken theirs down as well. Keepsakes. Few had finished packing up. Green-Ellis had to make the decision himself.
He reached up, fiddled with the edge to loosen it. He paused again and looked around. Then he pulled it down, stepped off his chair and flung both pieces of glory-embossed cardboard into his locker.
Green-Ellis had to settle. All the Patriots had to settle. All of New England has to settle with the Patriots having the reality that afourth Super Bowl title in 10 seasons had slipped through their grasp.
With 4:40 left in the game, the Patriots were in command. Up 17-15, theyd just picked up a first down on a third-and-3 throw to Aaron Hernandez that went for 4 yards. The drive had gone from their own 8 to the Giants 43 in eight plays. Another first down and theyd be killing clock and maybe lining up a field goal. They were almost in the clear.
Then it came undone. A loss of 1 from Green-Ellis. A wide-open Wes Welker failing to make a twisting catch on a ball that hed catch 90 percent of the time. Third-and-11 and Tom Brady throwing incomplete to Deion Branch when an open Welker stood alone in the middle of the field.
Punting? The Giants are getting the ball back? With a chance for Eli Manning to win? Hadnt we seen this movie before? And this time needing only three points?
Maybe the clock would work against them. Maybe the Patriots defense that hadnt allowed a touchdown since the first quarter and made so many big plays would make Eli work down the field.
A 38-yard completion perfectly dropped into the arms of Mario Manningham? Maybe he was out of bounds? Ummm, no.
Now its hope against hope that the Patriots arent going to allow the Giants into field goal range. And two plays later, theyre in range at the Patriots 34. Two plays after that, theyre at the 18.
Then it started to sink in. The Patriots are going to lose. That fourth Super Bowl? The end to the discussion of where Brady and Bill Belichick fit in the best ever discussion? Poof, gone.
Suddenly, Asante Samuels dropped interception in SB42 had given way to Welkers drop and David Tyrees helmet catch was replaced by Manninghams sideline toe tap.
And even then one last chance for deliverance. A Hail Mary at the buzzer by Brady bounced tantalizingly in the end zone with a lumbering Gronk trying to get his Gronk paws under it. But a play that would have given American sport an ending that could never be topped ended instead with the ball rolling harmlessly out of the end zone, jubilant Giants and heartbroken Patriots strewn across the end zone.
Its bad, said Deion Branch. Its bad. Just so many guys fought so hard. Even with this weird year with the lockout. Im at a loss for words, man. It dont even feel real. We never just took em out. We never took em out when we had the opportunity. That third quarter was a great time for us to put a dagger in em and we didnt do it.
The distance between G.O.A.T for Brady and the ludicrous cant win big games anymore was about 12 inches.
Presented with this logic, Branch said, So now I guess (Elis) supposed to be better than Tom? Thats what theyre gonna say? Hmmph.
Its crazy how that works, said Patriots guard Logan Mankins. You go the whole game, a tough battle and it comes down to one play, the balls in the air, everyones holding their breath, players coaches, everyone. Maybe a little bounce this way or that way and one of our guys would have caught it and it would have been a different story. I wouldnt be in here (doing interviews) yet, Id still be out there (on the field) celebrating. But thats how it goes.
A lot of people will say Tom lost, but its the ultimate team game, Mankins added. We win as a team, we lose as a team.
The self-abuse over this loss wont end anytime soon. The rock-kicking over opportunities missed.
Go out there, get a strip fumble and have 12 guys on the field, said Branch, shaking his head. Put the ball on the ground two more times in our end and we dont recover the ball. We get a safety at the beginning of the game.
Most guys just felt like we let each other down, said Brandon Spikes. Right now, words cant even really express how I feel.
Theres no real blame to lay in this loss. Blame Brady? For what, the safety? The 20 completions in 22 attempts 16 in a row and a 96-yard drive to end the first half followed by another touchdown drive to start the third kind of atoned. Blame Welker? It wasnt like it was in his hands. Blame the defense? They made play after play to get the ball back all day. They played way over their heads.
The Giants took this more than the Patriots gave it to them.
We let them sneak away with that win right there, said defensive end Mark Anderson. We shouldve stopped them at the end. I take the blame for that. I just felt like I couldve gotten more pressure. Thats what youve got to do when youve got a good quarterback. I wish I couldve got to him more often.
Asked how he felt, Aaron Hernandez answered, That we shouldve won.
Brady sat at his locker after the game catatonic. After saying nothing and looking at no one for a long time, he walked in his game pants and a sleeveless t-shirt to the shower room making eye contact with no one.
About 20 minutes later, he sat and answered questions with composure.
Ill keep coming to this game and keep trying, he said. Id rather come to this game and lose than not get here. Hopefully well be back at some point. We had a great year we just didnt make enough plays to win.
Amazing that this mythical notion of legacy can hang on one play, Brady was asked.
Thats what it comes down to in football, Brady answered. Its one play. Look at our game four years ago and it was a miracle play that (David Tyree) made and we had a chance to make one of those and we didnt come up with it. It always comes down to one or two plays in these games and if you make them youre celebrating and if you dont, you dont sleep for a week.
I hope we do get back here again, he continued. Ive been lucky enough to play in this game five times in 10 years so Id love to keep coming back to this game and taking a shot. Its better than sitting home and not playing in this game. I hope we get another shot. It came down to one play at the end of the game and if we make it were world champs and if we dont were wishing we were.