By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It’s hard, sometimes, to be a quarterback.

Yeah, you get all the money, and all the praise, and the fame, and the endorsements, and the attention. Yeah, you get a disproportionate amount of credit when your team wins, and you don’t ever get hit in practice, and all of that.

But then sometimes, you have nights like Eli Manning did on Monday. And it’s just not very fun.

Playing behind a poor offensive line, dealing with receivers who had trouble catching passes, and just not having an exceptional night, Manning was a punching bag during and after the Giants’ Monday night loss at home against the Detroit Lions. Even his own head coach was taking swings.

“Sloppy quarterback play,” Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said of the reason for a delay of game on a fourth-down attempt near the goal line. “Quarterback and the center need to be on the same page there. We need to get the ball snapped.”

Ouch — when you’re getting called “sloppy” by this guy …

Ben McAdoo (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

… you know you’ve had a rough one.

But Manning was also the subject of much Twitter bashing, including many folks who wondered aloud: “How in the world did this guy win two Super Bowls?”

Tough crowd!

Eli Manning gets hit by Cornelius Washington. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Anyway, the whole conversation got me thinking. For one, while Eli was not great on Monday night, people do really have an easy time of discounting what a pass rush can do to a quarterback. Manning was sacked five times and was hit eight times, making life rather difficult all night long.

But secondly, the masses feel perplexed by Manning’s status as a two-time Super Bowl MVP because … (drum roll, please) … (wait for it) … Eli Manning never really was a Super Bowl MVP.

No, this isn’t Inception. You didn’t dream those MVP awards being given to Peyton’s younger brother. But in terms of earning the trophy? Nope. Not Eli.

So, for a fun exercise here on a Tuesday in Boston, it’s time reevaluate and rename Super Bowl MVPs. To show that we’re a fair and balanced place that needn’t focus solely on Mr. Manning, we’ll take a quick, close look at all seven of the Patriots’ Super Bowl appearances in the Brady/Belichick era to properly contextualize our sports history. Let’s go!

Super Bowl XXXVI

Ty Law returns an interception for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVI. (Photo by Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)

Actual MVP: Tom Brady
Deserved MVP: Ty Law

OK, look, Tom Brady built his legend in that final drive, when he was absolutely nails on the biggest stage in sports. Brady went 5-for-7 (the incompletions were a throwaway and a spike) for 53 yards before spiking the ball and setting the stage for Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning 48-yard field goal. It was awesome.

But MVP? Brady finished that game 16-for-27 for just 145 yards with one touchdown. The Patriots gained nearly as much yardage (133) running the ball. It was not an offensive explosion by any means.

The real story of Super Bowl XXXVI, prior to that game-winning drive, was the way the Patriots’ defense held Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show On Turf” in check for nearly the entire game. And that was all jump-started by the play of a man named Ty Law.

With the Patriots trailing 3-0 midway through the second quarter, Law picked off an errant Warner pass near midfield and took it to the house, giving the Patriots a lead and providing hope that maybe this historic upset was possible.

Law also led the Patriots with seven solo tackles.

Considering how badly the Patriots’ secondary beat up on the Rams receivers to limit that historic offense to scoring roughly half of its season average of 31 points per game, giving the award to Law would have recognized how incredible that defensive effort was. From Willie McGinest to Lawyer Milloy to Tebucky Jones to Tedy Bruschi to Otis Smith to Antwan Harris to Terrell Buckley to Roman Phifer and Anthony Pleasant, that game was only winnable in the fourth quarter because of the Patriots’ defense.

Second place: Adam Vinatieri
Third place: Tom Brady

Super Bowl XXXVIII

Patriots QB Tom Brady raises the Lombardi trophy after defeating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVII. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Actual MVP: Tom Brady
Deserved MVP: Tom Brady

All right, well they got this one correct. While yes, the fourth-quarter end zone interception from Brady has somehow become a forgotten part of the game over the years, Brady was still simply outstanding: 32-for-48, 354 yards, three touchdowns and a complete command of the game.

Deion Branch was outstanding, too, catching 10 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. He also held on to a pass that set up the game-winning field goal, despite absorbing a heavy hit. But still, this one was about Brady.

Second place: Deion Branch
Third place: Adam Vinatieri (He had an off night but still nailed a Super Bowl game-winner, which is hard to do.)

Super Bowl XXXIX

Tom Brady celebrates the Patriots’ Super Bowl win with team owner Robert Kraft after defeating the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.

Actual MVP: Deion Branch
Deserved MVP: Tom Brady

The voters might have gotten too cute with this one. To be clear, Branch had an unreal game, catching 11 passes for 133 yards. But, well, he didn’t score any touchdowns, and … who was throwing him the football? I think it was Tom Brady.

Brady’s numbers weren’t eye-popping (23-for-33, 236 yards, 2 TDs) but he did what he had to do in spreading the ball among seven different receivers. He threw touchdowns to David Givens and Mike Vrabel, and he avoided throwing a pick.

The strongest case for someone other than Brady to have won the MVP would have been for Rodney Harrison. The safety had two interceptions on the night — one in the end zone to take points off the board for the Eagles, and one on the Eagles’ final drive to seal a three-point victory.

Honestly, Harrison winning the MVP made sense, but it likely hurt his cause that Donovan McNabb simply looked so bad that he made interceptions seem less impressive than they might normally. That may not make logical sense, but, well, watch this:


Second place: Rodney Harrison
Third place: Deion Branch

Super Bowl XLII

David Tyree makes the famous “helmet catch” in Super Bowl XLII. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Actual MVP: Eli Manning
Deserved MVP: David Tyree

Granted, you might argue that my logic is flawed, considering I discounted Branch’s MVP based on the quarterback being an important part of that performance. But, are you kidding me?

David Tyree (Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Trailing by four in the final minutes of the game, Eli Manning threw up a prayer on a third-and-5 near midfield — a pass that more often than not will get intercepted and cost his team the game. But somehow, some way, Tyree pulled off arguably the most ridiculous play in Super Bowl history by sticking that football to his helmet and holding on for dear life as Harrison harassed him.

From there, Eli finished the job, lobbing an easy touchdown to Plaixco Burress in single coverage against Ellis Hobbs. But that never happens without that catch from Tyree, who also caught a touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter to give the Giants a 10-7 lead.

And really, even though I argue here for Tyree, the award really should have gone to the Giants’ defense as a whole. The Patriots averaged 36.8 points per game over the course of the season, and they put up 35 points in an outdoor game against the Giants in Week 17. But the defensive line was absolutely ferocious, preventing Brady from running his offense all night, and limiting them to just 14 points.

To this day, I still cannot believe the 18-0 Patriots lost this game. But I know why they did: the Giants’ defense.

The problem was, there was no singular statistical performance on defense that made the case clear. Justin Tuck had two sacks, while Michael Strahan, Jay Alford and Kawika Mitchell each had a sack apiece. Osi Umenyiora also recovered a Brady fumble, which was forced by Tuck. Really, these guys were the story of the game, but sharing a Super Bowl MVP Award would have required a rather complicated voting process. So Tyree wins.

The play has been and will be remembered properly for its importance and unlikelihood, but it probably deserves the official distinction, too.

Second place: Justin Tuck
Third place: Eli Manning

Super Bowl XLVI

Tom Brady is sacked by Justin Tuck during Super Bowl XLVI. (Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Actual MVP: Eli Manning
Deserved MVP: Justin Tuck

Once again, the Giants’ defense led the team to a Super Bowl victory. Once again, Eli Manning was given the MVP award.

The Patriots averaged 32.1 points per game in 2011 but were held to just 17 on this night. That had much to do with No. 91, who imposed his presence for 60 minutes.

The stats may not show it (two sacks, three tackles, and another QB hit), but Tuck was immense in this game. If he weren’t in uniform, it’s fair to say the Giants would not have won. One of those sacks came on a third down in the third quarter, forcing a Patriots punt, and the other came in the Patriots’ final drive, forcing New England to use its final timeout. Oh, and that QB hit? That came on the Patriots’ first offensive play of the game, forcing Brady to throw a pass to nobody from his own end zone, resulting in a safety. The Patriots’ offense never really found its footing on this evening, and that safety was as big a reason as any.

(We can, temporarily, put aside the fact that quarterbacks throw down the field to nobody all the time without drawing an intentional grounding penalty, for the sake of this argument.)

He also had that Shredder-like facemask, the sight of which likely sends shivers down Patriots’ fans spines.

Justin Tuck celebraes a sack in Super Bowl XLVI.
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Manning? He was fine (30-for-40, 296 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) but unspectacular.

But once again, the defense gets no respect from awards voters.

Second place: Eli Manning
Third place: Hakeem Nicks

Honorable mention: Mario Manningham (Not quite Tyree-level; just a very good catch.)

Super Bowl XLIX

Malcolm Butler makes the Super Bowl-saving interception vs. the Seahawks. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Actual MVP: Tom Brady
Deserved MVP: Malcolm Butler

You may have watched football for your entire life. You may continue watching football for the rest of your life.

Yet you have never seen, nor will you ever see again, a play like the one made by Malcolm Butler to win the Super Bowl. Never.

To be sure, Brady was unbelievable in the fourth quarter against a historically great Seahawks defense. There should be no doubt about that. The Patriots certainly do not win that game with anyone other than Tom Brady playing quarterback in the fourth quarter.

But Brady also threw two picks in this game, one of which was uncharacteristically bad and cost the Patriots points. The Bobby Wagner interception can be explained away as a great play by a great player; the Jeremy Lane interception was simply poor.

And even though Brady put forth that spectacular fourth quarter showing, the Seahawks were still going to win the game. The Seahawks would have won the game if not for a historically questionable play call, but mostly if not for a truly unbelievable play by an undrafted rookie.

Butler had entered the game when Kyle Arrington was getting consistently beaten, and he played flawlessly. Yet fate appeared to be against him when Jermaine Kearse made a Tyree-like catch while lying flat on the turf — the very same turf where Tyree made his catch.

Fate swung rather rapidly, though, when Butler stepped in front of that Russell Wilson goal-line pass. Butler had the ball, and he should have had the MVP.

Second place: Tom Brady
Third place: Julian Edelman

Super Bowl LI

Tom Brady holds the Lombardi Trophy after the Patriots defeated the Falcons in Super Bowl 51. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Actual MVP: Tom Brady
Deserved MVP: Tom Brady

Yes, James White was the most dangerous Patriots player with the ball in his hands. Yes, Julian Edelman cemented his status as a New England legend. And yeah, Brady threw a first-half interception that went back for a touchdown that was all sorts of ugly.

Yes, yes and yes.

But … but come on now. No other quarterback on the planet — alive, dead, past, present, future — could have put on a show like the one Brady put on display in the second half and overtime. He finished with 43 completions for 466 yards, both Super Bowl records.

The thing about Brady that probably goes unappreciated in parts of the country where he’s seen as the devil is his drive. It’s overwhelming. He’s an absolute lunatic for three hours every Sunday, wholly determined to win the football game. He’s not always perfect, as you saw in the first half, but when it’s clicking? It is a sight to behold.

So yes, White deserves heaps of credit, as do Edelman and Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell and Martellus Bennett. But Brady’s fourth-quarter and overtime performance was simply the stuff of legend. It was an MVP award well-deserved.

Second place: James White
Third place: Dont’a Hightower

Honorbale mention: Trey Flowers

So there you have it. History changed. Brady’s down to just three Super Bowl MVPs, while Eli is dropped to zero.

(Oh, and while we’re at it, we’re taking away Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl MVP, too. A 25-for-38, 247-yard, one-touchdown, one-interception performance? In a game when his running back had 113 yards and a touchdown and his defense scored a touchdown? No way no how.

I just wanted to get that on the record.)

If the award was more accurately and carefully dished out, perhaps we’d be able to better evaluate history in terms of Super Bowl MVPs. Alas, the process of voting on and handing out awards is inherently flawed, and so every now and then we must work to reset the record.

And, as an obvious point that will be stated regardless, none of the assertions and statements made in this story are up for debate. They must be taken as points of incontrovertible truth. Thank you for adhering to the rules.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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