Then Belichick, known to try just about anything in a game, took a risk that didn't pay off.
The Giants are the first Super Bowl winner that was outscored during the regular season. They were 6-2 after that 24-20 victory at New England, then lost four straight and five of six.
Coach Tom Coughlin insisted "the prize" was still within reach. Now the Giants are holding tight to that Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"What I was concerned with was these guys making their own history," Coughlin said. "This is such a wonderful thing, these guys carving their own history."
Coughlin got his own piece of the record book as the oldest coach, at 65, to win a Super Bowl.
It was the Giants' fourth Super Bowl championship, more than any franchise except Pittsburgh with six and San Francisco and Dallas with five, and they became the first team to finish the regular season 9-7 and win the title.
New England had the ball for all of one play in the first 11 1-2 minutes, and that play was an utter failure, a rare poor decision by Brady. After Steve Weatherford's punt was downed at the New England 6, Brady dropped to pass in the end zone and had time. With everyone covered and Giants defensive end Justin Tuck finally coming free to provide pressure, Brady heaved the ball downfield while still in the pocket.
Only problem: No Patriots receivers were anywhere near the pass. The Giants were awarded a safety for Brady's grounding in the end zone.
Manning, meanwhile, couldn't have been more on target early, hitting six receivers in the first period. He also was aided by Ahmad Bradshaw, who hardly looked like a running back with a bad foot. Bradshaw broke a 24-yard run, and New England made another critical mistake by having 12 men on the field on a third-and-3 on which the Giants fumbled.
Instead, New York got a first down at the 6, and two plays later Victor Cruz beat James Ihedigbo on a slant to make it 9-0, prompting Cruz to break into his signature salsa move.
Manning's first incompletion didn't come until 1:19 into the second quarter.
At that point, it was 9-3 after Stephen Gostkowski's 29-yard field goal. The Patriots got to the Giants' 11, but All-Pro DE Jason Pierre-Paul blocked a third-down pass.
Soon after, when the Patriots had a three-and-out and Pierre-Paul blocked another throw, Belichick and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien had a quick discussion. Then O'Brien, soon to take over as Penn State coach, went over to the struggling Brady.
The talk must have helped. On the final series of the opening half, Brady was masterful. Starting at his 4, and ignoring the last time the Patriots began a series in the shadow of the end zone, he was vintage Brady.
With New York's vaunted pass rush disappearing, Brady went 10-for-10 for 98 yards, capping the drive that included two Patriots penalties with Woodhead's 4-yard TD reception with 8 seconds to go in the half. Hernandez and Woodhead each had four catches on the drive that, stunningly, put New England ahead despite being outplayed for so much of the first 30 minutes.
Brady kept firing — and hitting — in the third quarter, with five more completions. The Giants didn't come within shouting distance of the record-setting quarterback. He capped a 79-yard drive to open the second half with a 12-yard TD to Hernandez, but then the game turned. Again.
Consecutive field goals by Lawrence Tynes of 38 and 33 yards brought New York within 17-15. Brady then threw deep for his tight end after weaving away from two pass rushers. His throw was short, and Chase Blackburn picked it off early in the fourth quarter.
Although the Giants moved into New England territory again, as they did on every drive to that point, they bogged down and punted.
In the end, though, New York made the critical plays, just as it did in 2008. With Manning in the lead.
"Two hundred and twenty-eight countries just saw Eli," running back Brandon Jacobs said. "I don't have to say anything."