Feb. 6, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Justin Tuck - who played for Notre Dame from 2001-04 - called together his pals from the New York Giants' defensive line, gathering them in the end zone before the game for an impromptu pep talk and urging them to create some havoc for Tom Brady.
On the first play for the New England Patriots, Tuck took matters - and the star quarterback - into his own hands.
Tuck bounced off two blocks and pressured Brady into an ill-advised toss from the very same end zone that resulted in a safety, setting the tone in the Giants' 21-17 Super Bowl win Sunday night.
Tuck sacked Brady twice, overcame an injury and rallied the Giants, living up to his image as one of their defensive leaders.
"They had a great scheme there, and they had something going there to stop our rush," Tuck said. "But we changed our coverage, and the secondary did a good job so we could eat up front."
On a night the Giants knew they had to put Brady on the ground, Tuck ruled.
He got the Giants (13-7) off to a fast start, getting the safety on the Pats' first offensive play with an intentional grounding call, and came up big again when the Giants needed him. The Patriots (15-4) felt the pressure.
After taking a 17-9 lead on the opening drive of the second half, New England thought it could put away the game with another long scoring march. Tuck and the defense didn't let it happen.
"We were feeling good, and we knew we were going to go down and score there," receiver Deon Branch said, referring to the TD drive. "It was just a matter of what we were going to do the next time we had the ball. We went three-and-out, and you can't do that. We had a chance to put them away, and we didn't do it."
Instead, Tuck and Eli Manning made the Patriots pay dearly for the error.
Manning responded with a second straight drive for a field goal, taking 5:01 off the clock and giving the weary Giants defense a chance to catch its breath and adjust its coverage.
At that point, the Giants started playing their brand of football - getting linebacker Chase Blackburn to drop deep into coverage to intercept an underthrown pass from Brady. Corey Webster broke up a pass to force another punt, and when the Patriots got the ball back the final time, in desperation mode, Tuck nearly closed it out himself with another sack on third-and-10.
"We just played better," Tuck said. "I thought it was very important to get that long drive because we got our legs back."
Tuck was in attack mode long before kickoff.
With Tuck boring in on him, Brady managed to throw the ball away deep over the middle but was called for intentional grounding and the Giants took a 2-0 lead.
"That's the ref's judgment call," Brady said. "Tuck, I think, was coming and about to get me. I had to get rid of it."
It was the same plan that helped New York beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl four years ago, and the same plan that helped the Giants beat up New England earlier this season.
The early blocking breakdown forced the Patriots to go with more maximum protections.
But Tuck, who left briefly after apparently getting hit in the head, didn't back down.
He kept trying to attack the Pats blockers, kept telling his teammates to believe they could get their problems fixed and insisted that the defensive line would eventually start taking down Brady.
And when Brady got the ball back with 57 seconds to go and needing a touchdown to win, Tuck called the Giants together one last time and gave them one more pep talk.
"I think a lot of guys had their eyes lit up," he said. "I said 'This is what we've been working hard for all year, and we've got 57 seconds left to be world champs."