Young Pats secondary believes in bright future

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Young Pats secondary believes in bright future

INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Giants' stable of receivers is imposing: Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham.

"Pick your poison," said safety Sterling Moore. He and the rest of the Patriots secondary knew how tough the assignment was; they haven't intimidated anyone this season.

Beleagured. Maligned. They've been called every pretty word for "awful" that's in the book. Some new words might be invented in consideration of The Manningham Catch.

Eli Manning started New York's final drive of the game at his own 12. The Patriots were up 17-15 and just under four minutes from Super Bowl victory. They attacked playing cover-2. Moore, on Mario Manningham, briefly got his hands on the Giants receiver. Patrick Chung was over the top.

Manningham made the catch. He toed the sideline for 38 yards and triple-jumped New York to the 50.

"When you lose a game like this, especially a close game, it's always, 'I could have gotten this play back, I could have gotten that play back; maybe it would have made a difference," said cornerback Kyle Arrington.

Then he caught himself.

"Everybody left it out on the field -- I'm not saying everybody didn't leave it out on the field. But you just try to recap, as a player, maybe plays you could have made that would have been a difference in the game."

Forcing Manning and his target into an incomplete would have made a difference.

But losing Super Bowl XLVI doesn't just rest on the boys in the back. The throw was perfectly placed; Manningham's catch was spectacularly athletic.

Safety James Ihedigbo remembers the unit's effort with stubborn pride.

"I don't think there's one play out there that beat us," he said, chin set and straight. "We played a great game on defense. It was one of those championship games, it was a game that was going to be a slugfest and they made the key plays at the end."

Sterling Moore, hero of the AFC Championship for breaking up Baltimore's go-ahead touchdown try, made some impressive plays throughout.

"He was great," Arrington smiled. "Especially on third down. He came up big for us. He got multiple stops for us and he's only going to get better."

In the second quarter, Moore ruined a third-and-10 Giants bid by swatting a deep-ball catch away from Manningham. He came through on another third-and-10 in the next frame. Moore read Manningham's route perfectly and held the receiver to five yards.

His teammates called him inspiring; they had moments of their own. Chung delivered a helmet-rattling hit to disrupt a sure-catch by Nicks. Arrington limited Cruz to 25 yards on four catches.

"We've been through a lot of things: injuries, people talking, saying whatever they're saying," said Chung. "But we fought back, we fought hard, we got to the Big Show. We performed, we played a good game. It just comes down to the end."

Sunday's end was a sad one.

The Patriots secondary, after whatever analysis they could afford, could only conclude they failed. But theirs is not a hopeless case. Arrington and the others understand their youth. It gives them hope.

"Our future is bright. Positive," he said after a pause. "Give us another year to gel, be more cohesive as a unit. We'll come together this offseason."

It's something. On this night, it has to be everything.