In the four years since their last Super Bowl, the Patriots re-invented themselves, particularly on offense. Instead of the spread, the team was carried by the two tight end set featuring Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. What did not chance since 2007, was the success of the offense. While the 2007 squad had arguably the best offensive unit of all time, the 2011 version was no slouch either.
The Patriots, after starting the year 5-3, went on an eight game winning streak before entering the playoffs as the conference's number one seed. In the first game, the team dismantled the Denver Broncos before facing the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round.
New England won the game 23-20 – thanks to a Sterling Moore strip and a missed field goal – but Rob Gronkowski, straight off the statistically most dominant season a tight end has ever had, injured his ankle. The injury would clearly affect the Patriots' most dangerous weapon two weeks later.
Super Bowl XLVI: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots
Date: February 5, 2012
Stadium: LucasOil Stadium, Indianapolis IN
Final Score: New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17
Super Bowl XLVI started in the worst possible way for New England. After forcing a Giants punt, the Patriots started on their own 6 yard line. On their very first offensive play of the game, however, Tom Brady would be flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone. The result was a safety and a 2-0 Giants lead.
Things would get even worse before the first quarter was over. First, a Brandon Spikes fumble recovery was called back due to a penalty for having 12 men on the field. Two plays later, Eli Manning found Victor Cruz for a 2-yard touchdown to give New York a 9-0 lead. The Patriots finally got some momentum on their next drive, which ended with a 29-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal to make it a 9-3 game early in the second quarter.
The Patriots would close out the first half tying the longest touchdown drive in Super Bowl history. The team went 96 yards in four minutes to take a 10-9 lead thanks to a 4-yard Tom Brady touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead.
New England would open the second half with another touchdown drive: Tom Brady connected with Aaron Hernandez to extend the Patriots' lead to 17-9. However, it would be the last time the team scored in Super Bowl XLVI.
After two Giants' field goals, the teams headed into the fourth quarter at 17-15 in New England's favor. On the second play of the quarter, Tom Brady threw an interception intended for Gronkowski, who was bothered by an ankle injury and finished the game with only two catches and 26 receiving yards (working mostly as a decoy). Due to the Giants' inability to turn the turnover into points, the Patriots got the ball back with 9:24 left in the game and a chance to potentially expand their lead. However, the drive stalled at the Giants' 44 yard line with less than three minutes to go.
Just like four years earlier, the defense had a chance to stop the Giants late in the game. Just like four years earlier, the Giants marched down the field to score a game-winning touchdown.
For the second time in a four-year span, the Patriots lost a Super Bowl to the Giants – once again getting close, but not close enough, to the elusive fourth ring. They had a good chance to get it in 2006, but collapsed in the AFC Championship Game. They had shots at it in 2007 and 2011, but lost the Super Bowl each time. It would take three more seasons for them to get another chance to earn it.