Material Girl rolls out the hits at halftime

Madonna performs at halftime. Click on the photo for a full gallery of her show. (Todd Rosenberg/NFL)

INDIANAPOLIS — Well, that was interesting.

In a halftime set that included Roman gladiators, Gregorian monks, 70,000 flashlights, a marching band and one very bad bird, Madonna delivered the goods as the Bridgestone Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show performer.

The massive stage took about seven minutes to build, and the outrageously limber 53-year-old pop star performed four songs in a 15-minute set. Her show included the 1990 hit “Vogue,” 2000’s “Music” (with LMFAO) and 1987’s “Like A Prayer” (with Cee-Lo Green as the guest star).

But it was The Obligatory New Song Nobody Knows (“Give Me All Your Luvin’ “) that might have brought some trouble. Hip-hop star M.I.A. randomly flipped off the audience at the end of her guest verse, an act that inevitably will lead to debate about whether it was premeditated or done on the spot.

If you’ve followed the career of the controversy-courting Madonna, you already know the answer. Hey, she said no wardrobe malfunctions, not any malfunctions.

– Dan Hanzus

Ochocinco’s big catch leads to Patriots TD, 17-9 lead

INDIANAPOLIS — And we have our first Chad Ochocinco sighting in Super Bowl XLVI.

On the first play after halftime, Tom Brady dropped back, went through his progressions and fired a dart down the left sideline to Ochocinco.

The catch — a 21-yarder to move New England to its 42– was Ochocinco’s first of the postseason (not to mention his first in a Super Bowl). The Patriots then proceeded to run right past the Giants, scoring a touchdown to push their lead to 17-9 on an Aaron Hernandez 12-yard catch.

Ochocinco, America’s favorite tweeting receiver, played only one snap in the Patriots’ divisional-round win over the Broncos and was inactive for the AFC Championship Game. But it’s nice to see Ochocinco finally contributing in a meaningful way for the Patriots.

– David Ely

Second-quarter thoughts

Patriots fans should be very encouraged by the fact that their team scored right before the end of the first half of Super Bowl XLVI. Historically, in a close game, when a team scores right before the end of the first half they win a high percentage of the time.

The 96-yard drive by Tom Brady was a great one. It’s very difficult to engineer a drive that long without making any mistakes and the Pats did it. I’m a little surprised at the 10-9 score. I thought we’d have more points scored in the first half. I think the Giants’ game plan is to try and run the ball as much as possible. I think the game plan for New England is to throw short passes to the tight ends. Rob Gronkowski caught one pass on third down that was a really big play.

The first half was a game between two good offensive teams, but the defenses seemed to outshine both of the offenses.

The smallest player on the field also came up with some of the biggest plays, as New England RB Danny Woodhead had three receptions for 23 yards and the Patriots’ lone touchdown of the half.

The play of Woodhead shows what an undersized player from a non-division I school can do. Coaches wanted him to walk-on at Nebraska, but he wanted a scholarship and Chadron State gave him a shot. He was an undrafted rookie free agent who went to camp with the New York Jets. Here’s a little guy from a little school making a difference in the second quarter.

The Giants were really hurt by two very costly penalties during the quarter.

The Giants were penalized for having 12 men on the field early during the second quarter. On third-and-15, Ahmad Bradshaw caught a pass and gained 11 yards. Had it not been for the penalty, the Giants would have had a first down and continued their drive instead of punting to the Patriots.

There’s no excuse for having 12 men on the field. It never used to get called until the rule was put in about 15 years ago because teams tried to confuse you as to who was going to stay in and who was going to come out.

The other penalty was a holding call on Kevin Boothe.

In both cases, the Giants had to punt.

Patriots grab halftime lead with 96-yard TD drive

INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Brady and the Patriots grabbed a 10-9 lead entering halftime of Super Bowl XLVI with a 96-yard march that tied the record for longest drive in Super Bowl history.

Brady and Co. join the 1985 Bears (vs. the Patriots) and the 2009 Colts (vs. the Saints) as teams with 96-yard drives. The march, which ended with a 4-yard touchdown strike to RB Danny Woodhead with just 8 seconds left in the first half, couldn’t have come at a better time for New England.

One play earlier, Woodhead was hit hard from behind on an excellent play by Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul.

Brady battled throughout the drive and finished 10-of-10 passing and even pulling ailing TE Rob Gronkowski into the mix. Gronkowski hauled in a 20-yard pass earlier, drawing massive cheers from Patriots fans inside Lucas Oil Stadium. In fact, Gronk’s popularity was surpassed only by the reception given to Danny DeVito and former “Cheers” star Rhea Perlman on the big screen.

Now the stadium is draped in darkness, waiting for the Material Girl to hit the scene.

– Marc Sessler

Giants punter Weatherford might be Super Bowl MVP

INDIANAPOLIS — Is Giants punter Steve Weatherford the early clubhouse leader for Super Bowl XLVI MVP?

Why not? He’s easily been one of the most impressive players thus far, landing three of his four punts inside the Patriots’ 8-yard line.

His first punt was a 36-yarder that fell to rest on the 6. An intentional grounding penalty on Tom Brady resulted in a safety on the next play, and the Giants took an early 2-0 lead.

In the second quarter, Weatherford boomed a 51-yard beauty to pin Brady & Co. at the 4. But after a false-start penalty pushed the Patriots back even further, Brady drove them 96 yards for a touchdown and a 10-9 lead entering halftime.

Let’s not forget Weatherford’s second punt. It was a near-perfect coffin-corner kick, but the ball bounced into the end zone for a touchback after the Giants’ special-teamers couldn’t reach it in time.

A Super Bowl MVP would be a nice addition to the burgeoning Giants-Jets rivalry. The Jets opted not to bring back Weatherford after he had a poor 2010 postseason. Someone asked Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff during training camp why the punter no longer was on the team, and he said Weatherford “wasn’t good enough” by the end of his final season with the Jets.

He sure looks good enough now.

– David Ely

First-quarter thoughts

Patriots QB Tom Brady reacts after being called for intentional grounding in the first quarter. (Todd Rosenberg/NFL)

In building their 9-0 lead over the New England Patriots during the first quarter of Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants benefited from two key plays. The first came from their defense and the second was a mistake from the Patriots.

The Giants registered a safety on their first defensive play of the game when Tom Brady was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone. It looked like Justin Tuck moved inside on the play. Tuck is not a typical tackle, where I believe he was playing in that situation.

A safety is a very hard thing for a team to overcome because it also sets you back a series of downs.

The Giants scored on the ensuing drive when Eli Manning found Victor Cruz on a slant route over the middle. That play almost didn’t happen as just two snaps earlier Cruz lost a fumble. However, the Patriots had 12 men on the field, which negated the turnover.

I think the Patriots were confused as to who was supposed to come off and who was supposed to come on and it looked like defensive back Antwaun Molden came off the field and then, all of a sudden, had to come back on.

The other thing I was a little bit surprised about during the first quarter was that the Patriots used the huddle maybe 50 percent of the time. I expected them to go no-huddle and spread the defense out. They did spread everybody out, but also had some plays with a huddle. It was an excellent drive for New England that ended in a second-quarter field goal, very important points because they had to get something going or face being behind by nine-plus points.

I think it’s the kind of game everybody expected it would be: two passing teams, two very good quarterbacks.

Patriots on the board with field goal

INDIANAPOLIS — Breathe easy, Patriots fans. Your team’s on the scoreboard.

Tom Brady bounced back from his ugly intentional-grounding penalty to lead the Patriots on a 10-play, 60-yard march inside the Giants’ 20. The drive stalled short of the end zone, but Stephen Gostkowski converted a 29-yard field goal to cut the Patriots’ deficit to 9-3.

Some interesting stats courtesy of the NFL Network research crew: The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history is overcoming a 10-point deficit, which has happened twice.

In Super Bowl XXII, the Redskins trailed 10-0 at the end of the first quarter but outscored the Broncos 35-0 in the second quarter and won 42-10.

In Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints trailed 10-0 at the end of the first quarter but outscored the Colts 15-0 in the fourth quarter and won 31-17.

Also of note, the Patriots are no strangers to coming from behind this season. They trailed the Dolphins 17-0 at halftime in Week 16 and trailed the Bills 21-0 in Week 17. New England won both games.

Unrelated but worth mentioning: The Boston Globe reported that Patriots were having trouble with their headsets during the first quarter. Assistant coaches Pepper Johnson and Matt Patricia had to get new ones.

– Dan Hanzus

Manning’s TD strike to Cruz widens Giants’ lead

INDIANAPOLIS — The Giants’ defense drew first blood, but it was their offense that deepened the wound late in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLVI.

Eli Manning‘s 2-yard touchdown strike to Victor Cruz capped off a nine-play, 78-yard scoring drive that dropped the Patriots into a 9-0 hole.

A troubling development for New England’s spotty defense is Manning’s outrageous start. He entered the team’s second drive 4-of-4 passing for 40 yards and finished it 9 of 9, with 77 yards and the TD.

The Giants ran into a scare when LB Brandon Spikes recovered a Cruz fumble at the Patriots’ 9, but New England was flagged for having 12 men on the field, giving Manning and Big Blue new life.

Out of the gate, everything has gone New York’s way.

Marc Sessler

Giants’ D-line picks up right where it left off

INDIANAPOLIS — One of the biggest reasons the Giants upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII was the play of their defensive line.

Well, Big Blue is off to a good start in Super Bowl XLVI.

Giants DE Justin Tuck beat the interior of the Patriots’ offensive line on a nice stunt on their first offensive play of the game, causing QB Tom Brady to release a deep throw to no one down the middle of the field.

Brady was standing 2 yards into his own end zone when he threw the pass, and the referees flagged him for intentional grounding.

Safety. 2-0, Giants.

It was the seventh safety in Super Bowl history, but the first one since Super Bowl XLIII.

– David Ely

Patriots’ pass rush shuts down Giants’ first drive

INDIANAPOLIS — The Giants’ first drive started out with promise, with Eli Manning marching them inside the Patriots’ 40-yard line.

New England’s pass rush shut down the drive, however, with sacks by Brandon Deaderick and Mark Anderson, knocking New York out of field-goal range. The Giants had the ball for just under six minutes but didn’t score.

Steve Weatherford punted, pinning Tom Brady & Co. at the 6-yard line.

– Dan Hanzus

Other gems from Super Bowl XLVI pregame frenzy

INDIANAPOLIS — We’ve covered a lot of Super Bowl XLVI pregame, but let’s round up a few final notes.

  • As the Giants swarmed onto the field during introductions, RB Brandon Jacobs jogged to the Super Bowl logo at the 25-yard line, paused and dropped to one knee, placing his helmet on the turf.
  • Tom Brady and Eli Manning both put up a stiff front, but the Super Intense Face Award during the national anthem goes to Brady, who looked ready to kick a dog.
  • The NFC team came into this game having won 14 consecutive coin tosses, but Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie ended the streak by calling tails — as he promised earlier in the week– before it fell heads. They’ll receive the ball, though, since the Patriots deferred, and millions of pizza lovers will receive free pies from Papa John’s in a national promotion.

And. We. Are. Here.

Marc Sessler

Ihedigbo leads Patriots onto field

INDIANAPOLIS — The indignities never end for Jets fans.

James Ihedigbo, the hard-hitting safety whom Rex Ryan cut back in August, led the Patriots out on the field at the Super Bowl.

For the record, both the Giants and Patriots came out together as teams as opposed to individual introductions. The Patriots started this traditional showing of team unity back in 2002.

– Dan Hanzus

Mini live blog on Clarkson’s version of the national anthem

(Todd Rosenberg/NFL)

INDIANAPOLIS — Kelly Clarkson is on tap to deliver the national anthem before Super Bowl XLVI. She’ll be on the field for a brief moment in time, but a ton rides on this for the singer.

Great performance — Whitney Houston-like, circa Super Bowl XXV — and she can look forward to being piped into high school auditoriums for years to come. Blow it, and she’s finished.

All right, that’s strong, but you can’t muff this one, Clarkson.

Here we go:

6:17 p.m. ET: Clarkson is off to a good start. Super intense look from Tom Brady along the Patriots’ sideline.

6:18 p.m. ET: School children, military, Eli Manning — everyone digging this.

6:19 p.m. ET: She nailed it, folks.

– Marc Sessler

Fans ready to go at Lucas Oil Stadium

INDIANAPOLIS — There will be no late-arriving crowd at the Super Bowl.

By the time Faith Hill and her gold leather pants lit up the video screens in NBC’s open, nearly every seat is filled at Lucas Oil Stadium. We are 30 minutes before kickoff.

Stadium workers have erected a modest podium at midfield, presumably for Kelly Clarkson’s rendition of the national anthem.

As you might imagine, the crowd is buzzing. We’re getting close …

– Dan Hanzus

NBC’s Brian Williams helps set the scene in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS — Super Bowl XLVI is being aired on NBC, so naturally the pregame festivities at Lucas Oil Stadium have the Peacock’s finger prints all over them.

Example: Brian Williams, anchor of NBC’s Nightly News and host of Rock Center, set the scene by addressing the crowd with a taped piece that aired on the video screens inside the stadium.

– David Ely

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