If you’re a football fan, you’ll likely never forget where you were when the New York Giants shocked the sports world by upsetting the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, spoiling New England’s perfect season thanks mainly to what has probably become the most famous catch in football history.
That’s the only Super Bowl blemish of Tom Brady’s career, and it’s the only reason he isn’t playing for his fifth ring in two weeks.
Only three years after the Red Sox came back down 3-0 to beat the Yankees in the ALCS en route to winning their first World Series in 86 years, it was the latest compelling chapter in the Boston-New York rivalry that has captivated American sports fans for decades.
And here we are, with déjà vu in 2012. The Patriots are once again a juggernaut — the AFC’s top seed. The Giants? Just like in 2007, they weren’t expected to be here. But clutch play from Eli Manning and a fierce pass rush has been key, and they’ve again caught fire at the right time, surviving once again in overtime in the NFC championship game (last time it was in Green Bay, this time in San Francisco) to earn a chance to slay Goliath for a second time in four years.
Last time, the Giants provided us with a tantalizing regular-season appetizer, pushing the Patriots to the brink in the season finale and falling 38-35 in a thriller. This time, they took it one step further, beating the Patriots in their own building in November — Brady’s lone regular-season home loss since 2006.
That regular-season matchup will be sliced and diced and dissected in myriad ways over the next two weeks, as will that memorable 2008 Super Bowl game and the 2007 Week 17 battle. And we’ll surely
touch on thoroughly analyze Eli Manning’s legacy as he prepares for his second Super Bowl (big brother’s only won one).
But before we get into full XLVI mode, a few thoughts on what took place at Candlestick Sunday evening:
Did the Giants deserve it? They got two huge breaks in San Francisco, both of which Sean Tomlinson is currently taking a close look at in a separate post. Ultimately, they probably don’t win this game if Kyle Williams doesn’t muff two punts, leading to 10 New York points. But considering the wet conditions in the Bay Area, the Giants deserve a ton of credit for not making the gaffes that San Fran did. It wasn’t pretty (just look at Eli’s jersey), but they didn’t commit a turnover while controlling the ball for nearly 40 minutes. Lucky breaks aside, they deserved to win this game.
The defense was good when it mattered. Alex Smith completed just one pass to a receiver, while the Niners failed to convert a single third down until the final play of regulation (finishing 1-for-13). They finished the game with four straight three-and-outs on defense. Yeah, they only had three sacks, but the four-man rush still generated a lot of pressure, especially on third down, and as a result, the coverage was great. Smith did catch the Giants off guard with two big scoring plays to the seemingly unstoppable Vernon Davis, but he was pretty much ineffective outside of those two throws.
Victor Cruz has become the most dangerous player in New York. On the road, in those conditions, against San Fran’s D, Cruz was phenomenal, catching 10 passes for 142 yards and almost making a Tyree-like grab in the final minutes. Against New England’s mediocre secondary, a red-hot Cruz could be the key in two weeks.
Of concern: Manning took six sacks and the Giants really struggled on third down after the first quarter. The San Francisco defense is fierce (did you see them miss a single tackle?) but the Patriots have been very successful at getting pressure of late, so pass protection could be a major factor on Super Bowl Sunday. The Giants also failed to get things going on the ground for the second straight week, and the consistency of that running game has to be a bit of a concern as they get set to face a Pats defense that has been extremely good against the run with Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes healthy and Vince Wilfork doing his thing.
How significant of a role did the conditions play? It’s obviously impossible to know, which will add some intrigue to the next two weeks. The Giants were forced to punt 12 times tonight, which is obviously not ideal. And in the end, they only converted two of their last 14 third-down attempts. Did they hit a wall, or was that the best we could have expected under such circumstances?