On the third to last play of the Super Bowl the New York Giants were penalized for having 12 men on the field. However the Giants largely benefited from the play: The 5-yard penalty put the Patriots at their own 49, but New England lost valuable seconds and was prevented from completing a pass by the extra defender. After the play there was a mere 9 seconds left to move the ball over 50 yards.
I’d argue that the Giants sent the twelfth man out on the field on purpose, using a slightly altered form of Buddy Ryan’s “Polish Goalline” tactic:
The opponent is inside the 5 yard line going in to score. There is less than 15 seconds left. We want to stop their offense from scoring and in the process, we want to run the clock down to where they have enough time for just one play. So, we will stop them, get penalized half the distance to the goal, but leave them with enough time to run one play. We will then go back to our regular goal line defense and stop them to win the game.
Although originally used in a goal line situation, the same logic applies to what Tom Coughlin did in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl. It’s a pretty clever idea, honestly.
UPDATE: Somewhat disappointingly it appears that this was not an instance of the “Polish Goalline” tactic. As Deadspin pointed out, during the replay you can clearly see Justin Tuck, helmet off, hustling toward the sidelines. But he fails to get off the field before the ball is snapped. The graphic NBC used to point out the 12 men made it look as if they were all set, but the video replay makes it clear that the penalty was genuinely unintentional.