February 03, 2012
Another Giant Hike Up The NFL Mountain
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
INDIANAPOLIS -- Two more days, and then it really will be all about football.
It's been two weeks of predictions, talk of revenge, the suitability of Indianapolis as a Super Bowl city, and two words emerge from all the talk (and not "Gronkowski's ankle").
Las Vegas still says Patriots by 3. Most of the betting is coming down on the side of the Giants. The number of experts lining up behind each team is about the same. Some are even going as far as comparing this to Red Sox-Yankees because of the Boston-New York angle. Others look at this like Patriots-Jets, but this is not a division rival the Patriots are playing this weekend.
Super Bowl XLVI could not have worked out better for the NFL. Two storied franchises, two storied cities, two former Super Bowl MVPs as quarterbacks, two teams who know each other real well, two head coaches from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, and so on. Many Patriot fans may have formerly been Giant fans. The NFL could not have prayed for a better matchup. The only thing better than this is if this was a year from now, when the Giants would have become the first Super Bowl team to play in their home stadium.
The Patriots once again are gunning for some Super Bowl history, but in this case it is really about the Super Bowl, and not the greatest one-season team in history. The Giants are trying to weasel their way into the same pantheon. The Giants have their history too, and it is a good one, but it is somewhat detached from their great Parcells years and eons away from the great years of Sam Huff, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. But the Patriots are the ones who stand to gain the most prestige with a victory on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
As far as Sunday goes, though, the game is a veritable toss-up. Both teams have similar strengths and weaknesses. The Patriots have won ten straight but the Giants may be hotter. Tom Brady versus Eli Manning makes for perhaps the best quarterback matchup since Joe Montana and Dan Marino in Super Bowl XIX. Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin are equally an intriguing coaching matchup as the quarterbacks. All week long, one team never really emerged as having an edge over the other. Either team can win this game. Either team can lose this game.
If it is going to be the Patriots that win, here are five keys to victory.
Patriots much more relaxed this time
No matter what happens between now and kickoff, or even during the game, the Patriots will be a different team versus February 2008. No team in NFL history ever came into a championship game with an 18-0 record. The Patriots had the weight of the world on their shoulders. They were ripe for the picking.
The Patriots perhaps felt comfortable in drawing a team they had beaten on the road a few weeks prior to complete the regular season undefeated. But there had to be an undercurrent of pressure beneath whatever comfort level they felt. Combine that with an angry Giant team that must have felt like a Patriot win was a fait accompli, and that is why what happened happened.
No such chance this time. All the Patriots have to concentrate on is beating the New York Giants, not going 19-0. That fact may go a long way in how effectively the Patriots perform on Sunday.
Vollmer and Solder could tandem at right tackle
You might be afraid of rookie Nate Solder getting killed by either Justin Tuck or Jason Pierre-Paul. This may not be a worry at all.
Because Solder may instead be lined up at tight end alongside Sebastian Vollmer. Vollmer will play on Sunday, and could provide a key fortification on the offensive line.
Solder won't exactly be out there looking like the next Rob Gronkowski, or even the next Mike Vrabel. But he could be in there helping to pass protect, or even to run block in some situations. Pierre-Paul has a lot in common with Julius Peppers, in that he can be run at. The Patriots ran at Peppers in Super Bowl XXXVIII when he was with Carolina and had great success, in addition to neutralizing his pass rushing effectiveness. But using both Solder and Vollmer could be best utilized in giving Brady more time to throw, with Gronkowski helping Matt Light on the other side of the line if his ankle will allow it.
The Patriots could use this formation in some empty backfield packages, if Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Deion Branch can get some separation. The key here is getting Brady more time to throw, but short routes could work well here against a Giant secondary that is good but not great.
Eli cannot have the ball last, period, end of story
It must be clearly understood from the beginning that Manning can do exactly what Brady can do. And that includes winning a game with a late clutch drive.
The reason we know that is that in the last two meetings between these two teams, that is exactly what happened.
Manning tossed a touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 17 seconds left to win Super Bowl XLII. Earlier this year, Manning hit Jake Ballard with a touchdown pass for the win in the closing seconds. Both games were tight, one-score games. Manning was the one that had the ball last, and in both situations he came through and delivered the Giants the win. You've seen Brady do that so many times over the years, and twice in the Super Bowl. But Manning can do it too.
So, in the fourth quarter, if it is a one-score game, Brady and Belichick and Bill O'Brien must manage the clock accordingly. The Patriots cannot score, take the lead, and give the ball back to Manning and trust the defense. Manning will kill the Patriots if he is allowed to. In what will be his final game as a Patriot, O'Brien has to manage the last five minutes of the game perfectly. Even if the Patriots are up by ten or more points, the clock must be handled carefully in the end. The Patriots have to put the Giants away and not relax until it is time for the victory formation.
How did the Giants lose seven games and make the Super Bowl? Belichick must find out
This sounds oversimplified, but it may hold the key to victory.
Like most all sports, it's not about how you start, but how you finish. The Patriots have won ten straight games, but the Giants are perceived as the hotter team. Yet this Giants team lost seven regular season games, and barely qualified for the playoffs thanks to a Week 17 Sunday night win against the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC East.
The Patriots got lucky when Billy Cundiff missed the chip-shot field goal to seal the AFC Championship for the Patriots. But the Giants got lucky too in their NFC Championship game against the 49ers. That game basically came down to two punt return fumbles by Kyle Williams. Otherwise, the Patriots are probably playing the 49ers. So, despite all the hype over a rematch and how loaded the Giants are, one must be reminded that the Giants barely qualified for the playoffs, and barely won the NFC Championship in overtime in a rugged defensive struggle.
Belichick will never get beaten by anyone in the film study department. If there is a fish out there (a Red Auerbach term for someone out there on the opposition who can be exploited in a given situation), Belichick will find it. Belichick loves to reference an old saying by an ancient Chinese general named Sun Tzu, who said that "Every battle is won before it is fought." Belichick will no doubt find something which no one else may have seen that caused the Giants to lose seven games, and use it on Sunday.
There is also the feeling that the Giants don't play well when they are expected to win. That may be a component of why they lost seven games as well. In this game, the Patriots are not the same team they were viewed as in 2008. The Giants are seen by many as having the better chance to win. And if form holds on Sunday, this element will also favor the Patriots.
Patriots will try and win one for Myra
This is the mother of all intangibles, dedicated to the mother of all Patriots.
Myra Hiatt Kraft passed away on July 20th of last year from ovarian cancer. This season has been dedicated to her memory, symbolized by the "MHK" patches on their left shoulder. Light presented a painting of the Patriots in a huddle saluting the "MHK" logo to Bob Kraft a few weeks ago in what was an incredible emotional moment in the Patriot locker room. BenJarvus Green-Ellis tapped the patch and pointed to Heaven when he scored his touchdown against Baltimore in the AFC title game.
Much has been made of Kraft helping to bring an end to the NFL lockout last summer while his wife was going through her final days. The shot of Colts center Jeff Saturday embracing Kraft after the lockout ended has become one of the more iconic pictures in recent memory. There are those who feel that Kraft will be the benefactor of some good karma on Sunday. Depending upon how you feel about such things, it is worth considering.
But it will come down to who plays better on the field. Myra will be with the players in spirit, and Belichick will make sure that the players maintain their focus on winning the whole thing for the late Mrs. Kraft. To quote a John Wayne movie, "Faith can move mountains, but it cannot beat a quicker draw." That may also apply here, but her memory will certainly drive the Patriot players to play at whatever level they need to beat the Giants on Sunday and bring home the fourth Vince to New England.
Belichick says that there is no quarterback he would rather have than Brady. For all Patriot Nation, there perhaps is no angel they would rather have than Myra Kraft. If that be the case, may she uplift all Patriots to victory on Sunday and thus glorify her memory as well as her team.
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