I HAD a logicalangle to Super Bowl XLII all worked out, and I was going to develop it bycruising the Giants' locker room after they upset the Packers on Sunday, askinga bunch of people the same question. It began with, "How do you stop..." and then all I had to do was fill in the blank with: Tom Brady, whoworked over the Giants for 356 yards in the last game of the regular season;Wes Welker, who caught 11 balls against New York in that 38--35 victory; KevinFaulk, who added eight receptions that night and was the best player on thefield against the Chargers on Sunday; Laurence Maroney, who ran for asurprising 122 yards against San Diego; Randy Moss, who beat the Giants for twoTDs, including a 65-yarder.... Wait a minute. No need for a response to thatone, because Moss seems to have gone into hibernation during the playoffs.
When the exercisewas over, I'd have had my own analysis—Well, the thing about Brady is to keephim guessing, never give him the same look and mix things up, but you have tokeep pressuring him, and you've got to attack Welker at the line, and maybedouble-cover him ... and with Maroney you've got to make sure to control yourgaps, and Moss? Gee, you know how dangerous he is, etc., etc.
But that approachwouldn't have made much sense. If the Giants truly are going to control thatgang of high scorers, it will be because of something far more elemental—amentality that has elevated them from early-season mediocrity to the highestarena of the game.
No NFL team hadever won 10 straight road games before New York did this season. The Giantswere underdogs in five of those. They trailed in each of those five games andin eight of the 10. New York, with only one player selected to the Pro Bowl,and that as a reserve (New England has seven Pro Bowl starters), has shownqualities that are impossible to handicap. Courage, resilience, remarkablemental toughness.
January 28, 2008
There were manyways the Giants could have been beaten down against the Packers. Brett Favrekept escaping their clutches, and the missed opportunities kept mounting. Buteach incident just seemed to further anger a Giants defense that held Favre tothree-and-out on his last two series in the fourth quarter. There is a fightingheart at work here.
Of course, youdon't get this far without some serious weapons. Plaxico Burress is anacrobatic, 6'5", 232-pound receiver who kept snatching passes away from thecoverage—11 of them—on Sunday. The big guy--little guy pair of runners, BrandonJacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, had Green Bay's defenders on their heels at the endof the game. The defense didn't blitz Favre much, but the coverage people wereactive enough to intercept him twice.
And with the risein the Giants' status comes, well, not exactly arrogance, but a feeling thatthey've worked hard and deserve what they've gotten. I asked Jacobs about hisbuddy, Packers running back Ryan Grant, who hit the Seahawks for 201 yards inthe divisional round. "He wasn't going to do to us what he did toSeattle," Jacobs said, after Grant was held to 29 yards on 13 carries."This is the NFC East, man."
The Patriots teamthat the Giants will face is not the same machine that scored on seven of its11 possessions against New York in December. When Brady had a rarethree-interception day against the Chargers, the defense won by growing teethwhen its territory was threatened and limiting San Diego to four fieldgoals.
I can't handicapthis game by conventional means—rush schemes and offensive planning and thelike. I can only go back to Super Bowl III, when I was the New York Post's beatman covering the Jets, and I had a hunch that they were primed for a majorupset over the Colts even though it didn't seem logical. So I chickened out andpicked the Colts by less than the huge spread. After watching the way theGiants handled themselves on Sunday, I have the same hunch. The mentaltoughness is unmistakable. I'm playing the hunch this time. GIANTS 24, PATRIOTS20