By: Bob George/
February 02, 2008

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- This must be what Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay felt in 1953 as they neared the summit of Mount Everest.

Hillary, who passed away exactly three weeks ago, along with Norgay became the first persons to climb Everest to the summit. Their conquest of the highest peak on earth took some two months to complete. Once at the top, Hillary and Norgay spent only about 15 minutes before heading back down.

The New England Patriots are right now at what relates to the final bed down for the mountain climbers before the final stage of the ascent. The climbers had some 2,000 more feet to go. The Patriots have sixty minutes of football left.

Fifteen minutes at the summit? The Patriots, if they reach their destination, will spend more time than that. The Patriots will have run the table completely through the 2007 season, and will become the first team in NFL history to finish with a 19-0 record if they beat the New York Giants on Sunday in Super Bowl XLII. Their stay at the summit will be viewed as one year by some, forever by others. Only the Patriots will be able to say that they reached 19-0 first.

This incredible run by the Patriots compares to the scaling of Everest in that it is a scaling in football that has never been done before. The Patriots will carve their own unique niche in pro football history if they can finish the deal at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday evening. Whether or not the Patriots can lay claim of "best team ever" is for another day, but it will no doubt go down as the best season a team has ever had.

That is, assuming the Patriots beat the Giants.

In the regular season finale at the Meadowlands, the Patriots were expected to crush the Giants and go to 16-0. The Giants were locked into the five seed and had nothing to play for. But the Giants played the Patriots hard, lost by only three points, and by staying sharp pulled off road wins against the top three NFC seeds to earn the right to play in this game. Thanks to that 38-35 near miss by the Giants back on December 29, many folks think the Giants will play the Patriots tough again, and some experts predict a Giant upset of the Patriots.

If that happens, it really will be a Giant upset, and we don't mean the team nickname. The betting line still remains Patriots by 12 points, though the Patriots have not shown great ability to cover some huge point spreads over the second half of the season. Still, the Patriots do own many positional edges over the Giants, and if they play up to their ability, can and should win on Sunday.

If the Patriots are to secure the lofty place in history that awaits them, here are five keys to accomplishing this goal.

Let the Franchise sling it

Tom Brady absolutely must have time to throw if the Patriots want to have the best chance at winning. Getting that time might not be as easy as you think, when you consider that Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora are on the other side of the ball, the latter especially wanting to kill Brady thanks to what Matt Light allegedly did to him in the December meeting.

Actually, it's Light that Umenyiora is more ticked off at, not Brady. But Light will be at the epicenter of one of the key matchups of the game. Light and the rest of the offensive line will have to have a big game in controlling the fierce Giant pass rush. Linebackers Reggie Torbor and Antonio Pierce also must be accounted for, as both had decent games against the Patriots in December.

Look for Kevin Faulk to also have a key role in pass blocking. Faulk, who is usually in there on passing downs anyway, will be of help on blitzing linebackers and defensive backs. But it is still largely (no pun intended) up to Light and the offensive line to effectively protect Brady, and allow him to run the entire passing offense when needed.

If Moss is a decoy, so be it

Within that framework comes this important maxim: Do not throw to Randy Moss if he simply isn't open. After being burned for the second touchdown (which broke NFL records for both Brady and Moss), don't expect any similar coverage breakdowns in the Giant secondary this time. The Giants may want to fall in line with all the other teams of the last several weeks and say to themselves, "If the Patriots beat us, let it not be because of Moss." Sound reasoning.

But it likely won't get the job done. Brady must continue to look for guys like Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Ben Watson and Faulk if Moss is not open nor can he outjump his defenders. As long as secondaries continue to put extra coverage on Moss, it is good news for someone else out there. Brady will find that someone else, and if the Patriots win, Moss won't care one iota if he doesn't become the next Deion Branch (the second leading receiver in Super Bowl history).

Passing is fine, rushing might be better

Let's say that Brady is lighting up all of Arizona, playing the game of his life. And that could very well happen, with weather not a factor in this game and a fast track to go along with it. What then, pray tell, becomes of Laurence Maroney?

Maroney has shown that he is indeed the running back everyone thought he should be. The Giants did put the clamps on him in December, but Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur were both inactive for that game. With the entire offensive line now intact and ready to go, Maroney could very well run right behind Neal and Logan Mankins for some nice gains inside, gains he simply couldn't get in the regular season meeting.

If Eli Manning is having at least a decent game, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels might want to try and shorten the game. Long sustained drives (like the final one against San Diego) would do nicely in this case. This would be far more important than trying to run up 40 or 50 points on the Giants in case Brady is that hot.

Give up nothing red

Holding the Chargers to only field goals was nice. Can the Patriots do that to Manning and his offense?

They didn't do it in December. Manning fired four touchdown passes, all within the red area. Three of those four scoring tosses were within the ten-yard line. Philip Rivers was accorded no such success two weeks ago. Manning must be treated similarly.

What the Patriots might try to do, assuming Plaxico Burress will play (he was listed as questionable and did not practice this week), will be something similar to how they defensed the Chargers. The Patriot cornerbacks will lay off and give up underneath routes and play a "no touchdown" defense, but inside the red area, play tighter and choke off the receivers with less field to cover. If Laurence Tynes has a big night, the Patriots will have a bigger one. Tom Coughlin knows full well he cannot settle for field goals, and make no mistake, so does Manning. That added pressure will play well into the Patriots' hands.

Whoever defends the pass better will win the game

The game really comes down to the play of the defensive backs. If the Giants cannot do a thing with Brady, you could see the scoring record (Super Bowl XXIV, 55 points by the 49ers) threatened. Conversely, if Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs are continually burned and the safeties are no help, forget talking about 19-0 anymore.

What the Patriot defensive backs need to do is to play sixty minutes of good, hard football. If they can do this, the Patriots will be extremely tough to beat. One unifying element of all the three previous Super Bowl wins by the Patriots is a meltdown by the secondary in the fourth quarter in each game.

On each of the last three drives for the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, Kurt Warner went through the Patriot secondary like a knife through butter. They were exhausted from pounding the Ram receivers all game long, they had nothing left. The last drive went 55 yards in only three plays. It turns out that a Willie McGinest sack of Warner for a sixteen-yard loss on the penultimate drive, which begat a punt, may have been the biggest defensive play of the game (yes, bigger than Ty Law's pick for a touchdown), a play which allowed what would come later for the Patriots to happen.

In Super Bowl XXXVIII, both safeties Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison went down with injuries and did not finish the game. Because of this, reserve safeties Shawn Mayer and Chris Akins were torched miserably by Jake Delhomme in the fourth quarter, and especially on the final Panther drive which knotted the game at 29. Again, the Patriot secondary had nothing left. Thank goodness the Patriots had the ball last.

Finally, in Super Bowl XXXIX, the last Eagle touchdown was thanks to lousy pass coverage. Donovan McNabb was dry heaving and totally sickly at game's end, such that he mismanaged the clock and made some bad throws. But he still managed to throw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Greg Lewis to make it 24-21 Patriots. On the play, the secondary blew the coverage and left Dexter Reid, a backup safety, in one-on-one coverage with Lewis. Belichick was so mad that he yelled at then-secondary coach Eric Mangini after the play.

This is ample reason for the Patriot secondary to play sixty minutes. Manning could very well catch fire in the fourth quarter if the game is close and if the Patriots allow it. The trick is to not allow it and to maintain full intensity and pressure all game long. If the Patriots are able to do this, it will probably be party time when the final gun goes off.

The final conquest is in full sight. Like Hillary, Belichick can see the summit. He has what takes to make that final climb. With a special place in NFL folklore at stake, it's hard to imagine the Patriots not getting it done.