Patriots receiver Wes Welker can't make the catch on a pass play against… (Matt Slocum / Associated…)
INDIANAPOLIS — If this was not the end of the New England Patriots dynasty, you could certainly hear it from here.
On a night the New York Giants stole their Super Bowl, mistakes filled their hands, recklessness rocked their focus, and mortality rumbled in the distance.
On a night when Lucas Oil Stadium was filled with rock-star roars for Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his team's 21-17 victory, the disillusionment that engulfed the Patriots late Sunday sounded very like a farewell.
You could hear it in the clack-clack-clack of the high heels of Gisele Bundchen as the supermodel furiously chased husband Tom Brady while he sagged down a hallway toward the interview room. When she finally caught up to the Patriots quarterback, she smothered him in a long, tearful hug and didn't care who was watching.
You could hear it in the bursts of cursing from Patriots coaches as they walked down the stairs from the press box to the locker room, their long and lamenting wails carrying five stories down.
You could hear it in the exasperated whisper of Wes Welker, the tough little wide receiver who looked as if he was going to cry. It was his mistake that Patriots fans will remember most, a dropped pass at the Giants 20-yard line in the final minutes that set the stage for the Giants' game-winning touchdown drive.
"It hit me right in the hands," Welker said, his voice cracking. "I've made that play 1,000 times in practice...then the one time I don't come up with it is here?"
Welker took the heat, but the entire Patriots team simmered in a strange funk that contained hints of an aging quarterback and a coach who suddenly couldn't connect. Brady and Bill Belichick have appeared in five Super Bowls together, the most of any quarterback-coach combination in NFL history, but when all the blunders and bloopers and bad calls were completed, you wondered whether this wouldn't be their last.
In my Sunday column, I stated that the hyped-up masses who were picking the Giants to win this game were wrong. My bad. I was the one who was dreadfully wrong.
First, I was wrong in questioning the Giants' mettle. Eli Manning was stunningly good early, amazingly calm late, and soundly precise afterward.
"It's been a wild day," he said after leading another legendary Super Bowl-winning, 88-yard comeback touchdown drive. "We have a great, tough bunch of guys."
I was wrong in thinking the Patriots were still capable of being that kind of team in this kind of game.
I was wrong the moment Brady's first play, from his end zone, under pressure, was a 50-yard pass to nobody. It resulted in an intentional-grounding safety that may have been the dumbest big play of Brady's career.
I was wrong on the Giants' ensuing drive when a Patriots' third-down stop was negated because they had 12 men on the field. Two plays later, the Giants scored their first touchdown The mistake was particularly heinous because the 12th man, cornerback Antwaun Molden, was running on to the field, not off, surely making it one of the worst blunders of Belichick's career.
"It's a coach's substitution and we just, obviously, made a mistake there," said Belichick.
These Patriots are clearly as fragile as their gift win in the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens indicated. Their solidity must now be questioned, their dynasty with the 34-year-old quarterback and difficult coach seemingly teetering.
"This is one that will take a while to shake off," said Welker.
Welker was on that undefeated Patriots team that was upset by the Giants and Manning in the Super Bowl four years ago and, although he didn't say it, he didn't need to.
Unimaginably enough, this loss was worse. This loss was tougher because this time, the Patriots thought they gave it away.
They gave it away not only with drops and penalties, but also by failing to recover two Giants fumbles, including a ball that was stripped from Hakeem Nicks in the third quarter in the middle of a Giants field-goal drive.
They gave it away not only with Brady's poor judgment at the beginning of the game, but also when he threw a dreadful 49-yard pass to limping Rob Gronkowski at the start of the fourth quarter that was intercepted by a leaping Chase Blackburn.
"All this week we spent listening to the Giants talk, but, in the end, it came down to what we didn't do," said receiver Deion Branch. "It was like we kind of hit a wall."
This Patriots era may have also hit the wall, with the loudest smack occurring in the middle of the third quarter when Brady, who had just finished completing a Super Bowl record 16 consecutive passes, was thrown to the ground by Justin Tuck and landed on his weak left shoulder.
At the time of the sack, the Patriots were leading, 17-12. Not only didn't they score again, but they never moved closer than the Giants' 44-yard line .
When asked about the shoulder, Brady paused for a long moment before saying, "It's football. Everybody is hurting."