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Top Stories of 2012, No. 1: Patriots lose Super Bowl XLVI to Giants

12.31.12 at 1:50 pm ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com has been counting down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 1: the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the Giants.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination
No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from Celtics
No. 6: Tim Thomas’ political controversy and sabbatical
No. 5: Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals loss to Heat
No. 4: Red Sox’ megatrade with Dodgers
No. 3: Tom Brady’s MVP-caliber season
No. 2: Bobby Valentine’s nightmare season as Red Sox manager

It wasn’€™t a perfect season that was ruined, but the second time that the Giants ended the Patriots’€™ hopes for a fourth Super Bowl title was equally as heartbreaking.

For the Patriots, hopes were high at the beginning of the postseason. That’€™s because New England won the AFC East with a 13-3 record. For the Pats, especially after the previous year’€™s loss in the divisional playoffs to the Jets, it was Super Bowl or bust.

The Giants dealt the Patriots one of their three losses on the season in Week 9. In a game that featured no scoring in the first half, the Giants came out strong after the half and put 10 points on the board in the third quarter while the Patriots were held to just a field goal. Despite two touchdown drives and a field goal in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady and the Patriots couldn’€™t overcome Eli Manning and the Giants offense, who put up another 14 points for a 24-20 victory. It was the Patriots’€™ last loss of the regular season.

The Pats trounced the Broncos in the divisional playoffs on a frosty night in Foxboro. Brady threw for 363 yards and six touchdowns, three of which were to Rob Gronkowski.

The Patriots went on to a close win in the AFC championship game against the Ravens. After Brady’€™s fourth-quarter rushing touchdown put the Pats up 23-20, the defense was able to hold off the Ravens for two drives. The Pats forced the Ravens to place their trust in kicker Billy Cundiff. Luckily for the Pats, Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal attempt with 15 seconds on the game clock, ensuring another Patriots Super Bowl appearance.

In an odd turn of events, the first score of Super Bowl XLVI was a safety after Brady was flagged for intentional grounding.

A 12-men-on-the-field penalty negated a Victor Cruz fumble that Brandon Spikes recovered at the New England 9 on a third-and-3. Two plays later Manning hit Cruz for a TD that put the Giants out to an early 9-0 lead.

The Patriots drove down the field at the end of the first quarter to the Giants’ 17-yard line. Brady connected short to Aaron Hernandez, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for four yards. On third-and-4, Brady couldn’€™t connect with Hernandez and the Pats were forced to settle for a field goal.

Brady finally looked like Brady on the final possession of the first half, completing all 10 of his passes for 88 yards on the 96-yard drive that culminated in a Danny Woodhead touchdown reception. Heading to the halftime break, the Pats led 10-9.

The Patriots picked up where they left off after the half. Julian Edelman returned the kickoff from the goal line for 21 yards. Brady completed a 21-yard pass to the receiver formerly known as Chad Ochocinco. The Pats drove 79 yards for the score and topped it off with a TD pass to Hernandez. Stephen Gostkowski tacked on the extra point to put New England ahead 17-9.

Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes kept this team in the game, hitting two big field goals in the third quarter to give the Giants a chance of winning. Tynes hit a 38-yard and a 33-yard field goal to make the score 17-15.

One of the biggest failures of the day came from Patriots receiver Wes Welker. Welker dropped a ball in the fourth quarter that could have got the Pats into the red zone, and might have ultimately allowed them to close out the game.

With four minutes left and the Patriots up 17-15, on a second-and-11 from the Giants 44-yard line, Welker read a broken Giants defense — one defender was in Cover 2 and the other wasn’t. He split them and called for the pass from Brady. Welker leaped and it hit him in the hands before he fell to the ground. Welker remained on the ground with his head to the turf in disappointment.

‘€œIt hit me right in the hands,’€ Welker said, fighting back tears. ‘€œI mean, it’€™s a play I never drop, I always make. Most critical situation, I let the team down.’€

The Patriots couldn’€™t convert on third down and were forced to punt, and that set up the Giants’ game-winning touchdown drive.

“You get to this point, and you have a chance to wrap [up the game] and you miss out on it,” Welker said. “I’ll have to figure out a way to shake this one off.”

A remarkable 38-yard pass down the sideline by Manning to receiver Mario Manningham with just over three minutes sparked the Giants on the game-winning drive. In an attempt to get the ball back in Brady’s hands with as much time on the clock as possible, the Patriots defense let running back Ahmad Bradshaw score the game-winning touchdown. The Giants went for two but could not convert.

Brady and the Patriots needed a touchdown to win the game. Tynes booted the ball into the end zone on the kickoff so the drive began at the New England 20-yard line with 57 seconds on the clock.

Brady attempted to pass deep to Deion Branch and then short to Hernandez, but neither produced a positive result.

A third-down sack by Justin Tuck put the Patriots on their 14-yard line with 48 seconds left.

Brady stepped up and fired 20 yards to Branch for the first down to keep the Patriots’€™ hopes alive.

An 11-yard pass to Hernandez got the Patriots to their 44-yard line and a New York penalty for too many players put the ball at just about midfield.

With time ticking away, Brady couldn’€™t hit Branch, throwing it a little over his head.

A last-ditch toss for the end zone toward Hernandez bounced around and then fell to the ground at Lucas Oil Stadium. Incomplete. And so were the Patriots’€™ hopes for revenge against the Giants.

The scoreboard read 21-17. And the Giants burst into celebration.

“All of the people really did a tremendous job,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after the victory. “We had a couple of penalties that I thought took points off the board. We got into halftime and I said, ‘We can play better than this.’ ‘€

And they did. The Giants outscored the Patriots 12-7 in the second half to secure the game.

Brady completed 27-of-41 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, but it just wasn’€™t good enough. In the fourth quarter, Brady was 6-of-14 for 64 yards with a pick. Simply put, Manning outplayed Brady.

“We fought to the end, I’m very proud of that,” Brady said. “We just came up a little short.”

Patriots fans have wondered whether the outcome would have been different if Gronkowski was 100 percent. He had just two catches for 26 yards. His presence had been felt in the playoffs. He injured his ankle in the AFC championship against the Ravens, but not before he picked up 87 yards on the day. Gronk came up huge in the divisional playoffs with 10 catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns. Thanks to Gronkowski, the Pats embarrassed Tim Tebow and Broncos 45-10. What if … ?

New England fans were in shock, and many still are. One Pats fan, Mrs. Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen, was not so happy with the quarterback’€™s teammates following the loss. Bündchen cursed Brady’€™s receivers for not being able to haul in his passes.

Read More: 2012 Stories of the Year, Eli Manning, Mario Manningham, rob gronkowski