February 03, 2008
Perfect Season Simply Not To Be
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tom Brady did what he had to do, the Patriot defense did not.
It will go down as a game which will leave New Englanders dumbfounded for many years to come. If the Patriots ever come this close to a 19-0 season ever again, you'll always remember this game. For all of Patriot Nation, it was a night of angst, shame, disgust, and most of all, disappointment. For the 1972 Miami Dolphins, they can now finally break out the champagne, and break it out they will.
The 2007 New York Giants will break out some champagne, too.
The Giant defense pummeled Brady all game long, but in the end it was Eli Manning getting the better of the Patriot defense which made the difference. Manning was able to guide the Giants on a 12-play, 83-yard drive which culminated in a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. Brady had 29 seconds and three timeouts in which to respond, but it was too little and too late. New York had a 17-14 win, and the Giants bring home the third Vince in team history.
But most significant is that the Giants denied the Patriots what seemed to be their stated place in history. Loaded up with a record breaking offense, the Giants essentially shut down the Patriot attack all night long. The Giants were more physical than the Patriots, and even though their defense eventually tired in the end, the Patriots simply did not make all the plays to close the deal and finish at 19-0.
Instead of being like the 1972 Dolphins, the Patriots instead will become the next 1934 Chicago Bears. Those Bears went 13-0 but lost the NFL Championship Game. Who did they lose to? The Giants, of course. That was the famous "sneakers game", where the Giants wore sneakers in the second half to get better footing on a very icy and snowy day.
Three key plays on the final drive for the Giants cut down the mighty Patriots in the end. The most damaging, other than the touchdown, was a fluky 32-yard completion from Manning to David Tyree, which should have been a sack and a fourth down. Facing third down and three at his own 43, Manning was besieged by Adalius Thomas and Jarvis Green. Green had Manning by the jersey at the 37, and it should have been fourth and eleven. Manning instead broke away and lofted a deep ball down the middle. Tyree was able to outleap Rodney Harrison and make the catch at the 24, to put the Giants withing striking distance with 59 seconds left. Green and Harrison are used to making plays like these, but this time they simply didn't.
Three plays later, following a one-yard sack of Manning by Thomas, Manning was able to find Steve Smith in the right flat for exactly eleven yards and a first down. Brandon Meriweather was his defender, and he was giving a huge cushion and trying to at least prevent a touchdown.
Ellis Hobbs could not do that well on the next play. Burress lined up on the left side, curled inside quickly and then shot out to the left corner of the end zone. Hobbs bit on the inside move and was a dead duck. Burress was wide open when Manning hit him with the game winner. Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli might want to think about this play before they say goodbye to Asante Samuel.
Trying to analyze the Giant defense and how well it did is really a waste of time, because it wore down in the end and Brady gave his team the lead with 2:42 to go. Brady led the Patriots on a 12-play, 80-yard drive, culminating with a seven-yard scoring pass to Randy Moss to make it 14-10 Patriots. The Giant defense was gassed, with several of their key pass rushers asking out frequently for blows. All the Patriots had to do was keep the Giants out of the end zone and they would be champions.
If nothing else, the tremendous defensive pressure on Brady kept the score down and the Giants in the game to the very end. The Giants scored on a 32-yard field goal by Laurence Tynes on their first drive, but did not score again until six drives later, into the fourth quarter. But the Patriots could do no better; they scored on their first drive, a one-yard touchdown run by Laurence Maroney, but would not score again until seven drives later, the Moss touchdown pass reception.
Early on, it was Justin Tuck which was getting the most pressure on Brady, who wound up being sacked five times. Tuck had two of them, with Kawika Mitchell, Michael Strahan and Jay Alford the other three. To make matters worse, the Giants were also able to shut down the Patriot running game. Maroney finished with only 36 yards on 14 carries.
If there was one real key to the game, it was that the Patriot offensive line played its worst game of the season. Stephen Neal was lost for the game early in the second quarter following a Tuck sack. Matt Light was guilty of two false starts, and neither Light nor Nick Kaczur looked like their old selves in keeping the pressure away from the outside. Brady never found a rhythm until the final drive, but not being able to score on earlier drives hurt the Patriots greatly.
The Giants out-physicalled the Patriots as well. In addition to Neal, Kevin Faulk, Randall Gay and Harrison sustained injuries during the game, but all were able to come back at some points. Some Giants were hurting on the last Patriot scoring drive, but they were second string players, and one could surmise that they were "hurt" only to give the defense some extra rest during that drive (remember Willie McGinest against the Colts some years back?).
Politicians can now breathe easy, their little "Super Tuesday" party won't have to deal with a victory parade. The Patriots will make the long flight home, pack up their things, head home, and wonder what became of their historic season. Guys like Junior Seau and Moss, who waited a long time for this chance at what they must have assumed was certain glory, have to be completely beside themselves.
The impact of this loss won't really be felt for some days to come. By then it will sink in as to what the Patriots let get away. Other chances at Vinces may come, but perhaps in the future, going into the Super Bowl with at least one loss isn't the worst thing in the world. The weight may have been too much for the Patriots to bear, and 19-0 remains a mountain that has yet to be conquered.
This loss for the Patriots will be tough to swallow over the long haul. The nice thing is that in two weeks, shop opens up in Fort Myers, Florida.
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