Starting on February 14, 2014, Sam Quinn and The Sports Post have decided to run down the 52 Greatest What Ifs in NFL History, one per week, for the next year. For a list of published What Ifs, as well as the introductory piece, click here.
It is one of the most iconic plays in NFL history. On a third-and-five with the Super Bowl on the line, Eli Manning escapes Adalius Thomas and finds David Tyree in the middle of the field for one of the greatest catches in the history of football. The Giants would go on to win the game and stun the undefeated Patriots.
But what if Tyree didn't hold on?
The Patriots win Super Bowl XLII after stopping the Giants on fourth down, becoming the league's first ever 19–0 team and making Tom Brady the nearly unanimous choice for greatest quarterback ever.
But it doesn't end there. As the Super Bowl champions, the Patriots open up the 2008 season on Thursday Night Football against Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts. Not a big deal right? Wrong. No game on Sunday means no Bernard Pollard, no torn ACL, and no Matt Cassel.
This allows the Patriots to maintain their dominance throughout the regular season, finishing with a 14–2 record as Tom Brady finishes second in MVP voting to Peyton Manning. Speaking of Manning, things change up quite a bit for him as well.
Brady's health means that the Patriots beat the Chargers in Week 6, knocking them out of the playoffs. This means Manning's Colts don't have to play the Chargers in the playoffs. Instead, they knock off Jay Cutler's floundering Broncos and Kerry Collins's underwhelming Titans to face… Joe Flacco and the Ravens?
Yup. After upsetting division rival Pittsburgh in the first round the Ravens go into Foxborough and stun the No. 1 seeded Patriots thanks to a brilliant defensive performance and just enough scoring on offense.
The miracles end there for Flacco, as his Ravens get annihilated in Indianapolis by Manning's Colts, who go on to beat Kurt Warner's Cardinals in the Super Bowl to give Manning his second ring.
In 2009, the Colts get off to a 14–0 start just as they did in real life, but rather than resting their starters against the Jets as they actually did, Manning convinces his coaches to give him a shot to match Tom Brady's perfection.
The Colts do just that, finishing the year 16–0 and dominating the Bengals in the divisional round. Tom Brady and the Patriots await in the AFC championship game, as they knocked off the Ravens in a revenge game and then the Chargers in the divisional round.
Just as they did in 2006, Manning and Brady trade blows for four quarters before the Colts finally prevail thanks to Bill Belichick's risky decision to go for it on fourth-and-two in Patriots' territory (a decision made when punting to Manning in the regular season failed).
Just as they did in real life, the Colts advance to the Super Bowl to face the Saints, but there's a key difference. Dwight Freeney never gets hurt against the Patriots as he did against the Jets, leaving the Colts at full strength. This gives them just the boost they need to take down the Saints and give Manning his third ring.
Manning has three rings, Brady has four, both have undefeated seasons. The debate becomes even more fascinating.