When looking at the greatest 4th quarters of all time, the 4th quarter of the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl will have to be considered.
We all saw something inexplicable, incredible and possibly supernatural when Eli Manning completed a spellbinding drive with a TD pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining. The Tyree catch in and of itself is an immortal highlight-reel play.
But most important, I believe, is that we all bore witness to a team that fell from its lofty heights.
The Patriots probably entered this game believing they were going to win - I really believed they would win. All week, experts and media were asking, "Does another championship make the Patriots the greatest dynasty ever? Will the 2007 Patriots be remembered as the greatest team ever? Is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback ever? Is Bill Belichick the greatest coach ever?" Really, it appears these conversations were best saved until after the game.
I see a team brought down by self-confidence, a team that believed they were more unique and more special than any other team in the NFL. I see a team that was all too willing to believe that Bill Belichick was something more than a football coach and that Tom Brady was something more than a quarterback. As it turned out, Belichick was a coach who couldn't wait one second to leave the field before the game was over and Brady was a quarterback who threw erratically most of the night.
It was a team not worthy of perfection: Their players would love to talk about "humble pie" and only caring about championships, but they also seemed to care about talking to the press and receiving adoration for their achievements and how special they were. All the talk about not getting respect and using negative press as motivation served to mask the fact that a team can only pretend to be the underdog as long as they actually are the underdog. When everyone believed they would win, suddenly their philosophy seemed empty.
Now what will become of the franchise - a team that somehow swept steroid use (Rodney Harrison, that's you) and Spygate under the rug? For the NFL, the Patriots actually had to lose, because the league can't have a champion that is under scrutiny for cheating, especially cheating to win one of their Super Bowls. Things are only bound to get worse for the Pats, as their videotape controversy is likely re-examined and their players lose some faith in what seemed to be an ironclad ideology before one unlikely Giants drive.
In my opinion, it's a lesson, and hopefully one the Patriots learn well. Undefeated is over. Now what?
Photo Credits: Baltimore Sun