By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 20, 2008

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FOXBOROUGH -- This may be the first Super Bowl involving two hated teams.

The nation hates the Patriots because all they do is win.

But the nation will also hate the Giants for denying the world a Tom Brady-Brett Favre Super Bowl.

Instead of a matchup for the ages, the Patriots instead get a grudge rematch with the team which nearly denied them a 16-0 record back on December 29th at Giants Stadium. The Patriots fulfilled their Super dreams on Sunday at Gillette Stadium by dispatching the hurting San Diego Chargers, 21-12, while the Giants did the unthinkable and beat the Green Bay Packers in overtime at frigid Lambeau Field, 23-20. So, the team that now stands in the way of the Patriots and a perfect 19-0 season is the Giants and not the Packers. The Patriots no longer need to worry about Favre, they get a familiar opponent, but they also get a hot team on a long road win streak who nearly beat them in the final week of the regular season.

Tom Brady was able to pull out a win despite having a subpar game, rife with three interceptions and several hurried throws. The Patriots won this game thanks to their two running backs, and a defense which kept Philip Rivers and company out of the end zone all game long, three times when the Chargers were in the red area. The Chargers played an inspired game on both sides of the ball, but in the end came up several plays short and the Patriots were still able to come up with all the necessary plays to win the game.

Brady had three picks in the playoff win last year at San Diego, and he suffered three picks again on Sunday. The biggest key to the Patriot win may have been San Diego's inability to capitalize on these mistakes. Two of the three interceptions were definitely bad throws by Brady, while the third was thanks to a tipped ball by Donte Stallworth.

In the first quarter, after two possessions resulted in two punts, Brady tried to float one to Stallworth in the right flat on the first play. Quentin Jammer had coverage on Stallworth and leaped up and made the pick. Stallworth wasn't ever open and Brady should have seen Jammer in the vicinity. The second one was at the end of the first possession of the second half, when Drayton Florence caught a tipped ball at midfield by Stallworth who tried to make a play on a crossing pattern.

The third interception was potentially the most damaging. After the Chargers cashed in the second interception with a Nate Kaeding field goal from 24 yards out, Brady led the Patriots from his own 32 to the Charger 2. On third and goal, Brady tried to force the ball to Ben Watson in the back of the end zone. He should have seen Antonio Cromartie nearby, and Cromartie made the pick in the end zone. It was the first red zone interception for Brady since the Denver playoff loss two years ago.

But this interception, with the score 14-12 Patriots at the time, turned only into a four-and-out. The Patriots closed the door from this moment on. Three interceptions turned into only two field goals. This was a huge opening Brady gave the Chargers, but they were totally unable to take advantage of it.

With Brady having a subpar passing game (he finished with 22 of 33 passing for 209 yards and a passer rating of only 66.4), the Patriots turned to their two running backs, Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk. Maroney had 106 yards rushing in the second half alone, finishing with 122 yards total rushing. He became the first Patriot running back since Craig James in 1985 to have consecutive 100-plus yard rushing games in the postseason. Maroney almost single-handedly put the game away in the fourth quarter, carrying the ball eight times on the final drive of the game as the Patriots were able to kill off the final 9:31 of the game to send them to the Super Bowl.

Faulk had perhaps his best game as a Patriot, making many of the big plays he has become famous for. He caught eight passes for 82 yards, including two clutch third down catches on that aforementioned final drive of the game. On third down and eleven from the 24-yard line, Faulk took a right flat pass and made a diving catch, sliding just to the first down marker. Three plays later, on third down and three at the 42, Faulk caught a flat pass over the middle for 12 yards, making an incredible catch on a ball thrown behind him.

The Patriots were able to flummox Rivers in the red zone, going to extra defensive back packages to help stifle receivers. Rivers, who despite all the horrific injury reports looked about as injured as a ballet dancer in the Nutcracker Suite, was able to find receivers easily between the ten-yard lines (former Dolphin wideout Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson had 183 receiving yards between the two of them). But inside the ten-yard line, the Patriot defense was able to make all the plays and Rivers never got his team into the end zone.

In the first quarter, after the first Brady interception, the Chargers had third and goal at the eight. Rivers found Chambers in the back of the end zone, but came down with the ball out of bounds and a short field goal ensued. In the second quarter, again facing third down and goal at the eight, Rivers hit Chambers on a crossing pattern in the left flat, but Ellis Hobbs made a terrific tackle holding Chambers to only one yard gained and another short field goal by Kaeding. And in the third quarter, with third down and one at the Patriot four, Michael Turner was tripped up by former Charger Junior Seau for a two-yard loss, leading to still another short field goal by Kaeding.

Kaeding, who has had problems making clutch field goals in postseasons past, made all four field goal attempts. But three of the four field goals were 26 yards or less. The 40-yarder he also made was the longest of his career in the postseason.

The Patriots are now the first 18-0 team in NFL history and will head for Glendale, Arizona in two weeks to take on the Giants for a chance at some real NFL history. The Patriots would then complete their incredible season and become the first team ever to run the table at 19-0. Bill Belichick will try and win his fourth Super Bowl as head coach against the team which employed him as their defensive coordinator in the 1980s.

A ton of history awaits the Patriots out in the Arizona desert. The Patriots have never played at University of Phoenix Stadium, the beautiful second-year home of the Cardinals. Weather won't be an issue, and the Patriots should be able to run whatever offense they feel is necessary to once again beat the Giants. The early line on the Super Bowl is the Patriots being a 14-point favorite.

Make no mistake, it will be one tough Giant team standing in the way of the Patriots and history. They played the Patriots tough when the game meant nothing to them. How will the Giants react with a world championship on the line?

Two weeks. Start planning, everyone. By the time they get to Phoenix, the Patriots hopefully will know what to do by then.


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