By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 23, 2012

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Thank goodness the Patriots aren't 18-0 this time.

Few games cut deep into the inner psyche of New England than Super Bowl XLII. The Red Sox had some epic losses in 1978, 1986 and 2003. That Game 7 against the Lakers two years ago was teeth-gnashing. But how do these games compare with the 17-14 loss to the Giants in February of 2008, turning what should have been a 19-0 season into an 18-1 disappointment, ruining what was the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history? Some of you out there may not be completely over that catastrophic loss.

Four years later, the Patriots and Giants are headed back to the Big Show. They will compete a week from Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI. Eli Manning heads to his brother's crib to try and come away with more Vinces than Peyton. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will try and etch their names into NFL history and secure places on NFL's Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks and head coaches respectively.

The Patriots will head into this rematch a lot more relaxed, not worrying about completing a perfect season, against a team they know real well. The Giants are a 9-7 regular season team which won a division title by a hair over the Dallas Cowboys, but have now morphed into this behemoth of a playoff team, knocking off the one and two seeds in the NFC on their way to Indianapolis. Belichick and Tom Coughlin were former coaching teammates under Bill Parcells with the Giants. The 49ers might have been a better matchup for the Patriots, but the Giants are far more familiar and a much sexier matchup.

The intangibles are endless. The last Patriot loss in 2001 was against the Rams at home. The last Patriot loss in 2011 was against the Giants at home. Boston versus New York. The hot new star of the Giants went to UMass. The last time the Giants went to the Super Bowl, they beat a high seed on the road in overtime in the NFC Championship Game. Both 2011 conference championship games came down to a 30-ish field goal that was either made or missed.

Many Patriot fans dread this matchup, with lingering nightmares of Super Bowl XLII lurking in the deep catacombs of their brains. Other fans salivate over this rematch, as the Patriots have a rare chance to exact some sweet revenge. The Patriots managed to avenge early losses to Buffalo in 2003 and 2011. This is a thousand times bigger than those two games. This is The Show. You want a comparison? How about coming back from down 3 games to none against the Yankees in 2004 after the skull-imploding Game 7 loss at Yankee Stadium a year earlier?

The question is whether or not the Patriots have the material to pull off this big payback. The Giants head into this Super Bowl hotter than green salsa with poblano peppers. The Patriots are on a ten-game win streak, mostly against substandard quarterbacks and offenses. But can the suspect Patriot defense deal with Manning? The defense for the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII was better than this one. The biggest difference between the Giants then and now is that Jason Pierre-Paul has replaced Michael Strahan and he is better than the guy he replaced.

If the Patriots are to gain the revenge they crave, two things which went very wrong in Super Bowl XLII must be examined closely.

First of all, the offensive line got killed most all game long. When the Giants defense finally tired in the fourth quarter, Brady was able to engineer a drive where he hit Randy Moss with what should have been the game-winning touchdown.

Second, the defense played well most all game long, but failed miserably when it was needed the most. Asante Samuel let a game-ending interception go right through his hands. You can't blame Rodney Harrison for that hideously lucky catch by David Tyree, but you can blame Jarvis Green for not wrapping up Manning for a sack and allowing him to escape and make that lucky throw. Ellis Hobbs may have been hurt, but that was sickening coverage on Plaxico Burress on the winning touchdown.

That was pretty much it. The defense didn't make the plays it made in the three Super Bowl wins, and the offensive line disgraced their great position coach, Dante Scarnecchia. The offensive line can and should bounce back in Super Bowl XLVI, but can anyone behind the defensive front seven deal adequately with former Minuteman Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and the immortal Jake Ballard, the world famous tight end who scored the winning touchdown in the Giant win over the Patriots earlier this season.

The key to beating the Giants will come from these two areas. Bill Belichick can look at all the game film he wants to, but if the Giants once again top the Patriots in intensity, execution and passion, all the time spent in the film room will be wasted. It is still unconscionable four years later that the Giants out-intensified an 18-0 team looking for its special place in history. That most likely won't happen in 2011. But the Patriots have to do something about the material deficits and the areas the Giants can exploit.

And they have to come to grips with the fact that Manning can match Brady out on the field in execution, insane as it may sound. Manning has become the best fourth quarter quarterback in the league, something that Brady used to be. Not that Brady still can't make some late game magic, but if it comes down to who has the ball last, Manning has the offensive material to get the job done, and the Patriots have less defensive material than 2007 to prevent it.

Belichick will have a tremendous challenge ahead. He will need to come up with a defensive game plan to somehow confuse Manning and to keep him off balance, and stay out of a position where Manning can win the game on a final offensive drive in the fourth quarter. Belichick and Bill O'Brien (and perhaps Josh McDaniels and Scarnecchia) will need to come up with a way to let the offense do what they do and avoid Brady getting killed on most every play and the running game getting stuffed like four years ago.

If there is any saving grace, it's that the Giants did lose seven games this year and are capable of cutting a stinker. In the Super Bowl, that's a reach, but the Giants were equally capable of bad football in 2011 as they were good football. The Giants took it to the now former champion Packers at Lambeau Field last week, and outlasted the 49ers at Candlestick Park on Sunday to get to this game. But they came dangerously close to not even making the playoffs. If Belichick can exploit why this was the case, the Patriots will be in very good shape.

The two-week media circus has just begun. Expect lots and lots of talk and exhumations everywhere of a Super Bowl you would all love to forget.

But if the Patriots do win Super Bowl XLVI, you'll never lose sleep over XLII again. 18-1 won't matter anymore. The fourth Vince will mean everything.


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