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Super Bowl XLVI: legacies on the line in rematch

By Brian Tabakin

Section: Sports

February 3, 2012

In February 2008, the Giants and Patriots arguably played the best Super Bowl in the modern era. The Patriots were coming off of a record-breaking season during which they shattered offensive records. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for 4,806 yards, at the time a career-high, an NFL record 50 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions. Brady finished the season with a 117.2 passer rating, the second highest rating in the history of the NFL.

Brady’s favorite target that season was wide receiver Randy Moss. Coming off the worst statistical year of his career, finishing with just 42 receptions for 553 yards and three touchdowns; however, with the Patriots in 2007, Moss had what can be considered the best single season for a wide receiver in NFL history finishing with 98 receptions for 1,493 yards and an NFL record 23 touchdowns.

The Patriots had also acquired wide receiver Wes Welker from the Dolphins for a second round and seventh round pick. In his first season with the Patriots, Welker finished tied for the league lead with 112 receptions for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns.

As impressive as their offense was, the defense was just as dominant led by all-pro players Vince Wilfork, Mike Vrabel, Adalius Thomas, Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Asante Samuel.

The Patriots had steamrolled the competition during the regular season and post-season going undefeated and were on the precipice of becoming the first 19-0 team in the history of the NFL and staking the claim to the “greatest team in NFL history.”

In contrast, the Giants finished the regular season with a 10-6 record and had to fight for their lives even to get into the playoffs.

Every NFL fan knows what happened next. In one of the greatest upsets in sports history, the Giants knocked off the Patriots and ruined their perfect season with a 17-14 victory. Just as stunning as the Giants’ upset was what has come to be known simply as “The Catch 42.” The play involved a relatively unknown Giants’ receiver, David Tyree, catching a poorly thrown ball from Eli Manning by securing it against his helmet as he fell to the ground.

Until this season, the Patriots had not won a playoff game since that run to the Super Bowl. Similarly, the Giants had not won a playoff game since winning that Super Bowl either.

Both the Giants and Patriots reversed these recent trends, as they will once again face off in the Super Bowl this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Too many are making the mistake of coining this game as a rematch of Super Bowl XLII. The simple facts are that the two teams could not be more different. The Patriots have just seven players remaining from the ’07 team as the entire roster, including the offense has been entirely redone. The Giants have just 16 players remaining from their championship team. While the quarterbacks, Eli Manning and Tom Brady, and the coaches, Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick, remain the same, most of the players are completely different.

A common analysis of the game is that the Giants defensive line will disrupt and pressure Brady just like they did in ’07 with Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka. This monster front four that won the game for the Giants is mostly the same with the only difference being Pierre-Paul replacing the now retired and first ballot hall of famer Michael Strahan (a much bigger talent drop off than ESPN would have you believe.) But while this front four is among the best in rushing the quarterback, they will not have a big impact.

Through this entire postseason, Brady has been sacked only one time. This is even more amazing considering he has played against and beaten some of the best pass rushing teams in the NFL this year in the Ravens and Broncos. Like these teams, the Giants won’t have much success sacking and rushing Brady either. The simple reason is the revolutionary Patriots offense. In ’07, Brady had to hold the ball in the pocket for around three to five seconds to allow Randy Moss to break through the safeties and create space downfield; however, the current Patriots offense primarily uses a two tight end with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski to go along with a Wes Welker as a slot receiver and typically Deion Branch on the sideline. This offensive package allows Brady to get rid of the ball much more quickly, typically in one to three seconds, to his tight ends and slot receivers. While in ’07 the Patriots passing game was primarily vertical, the current Patriots’ offense is primarily horizontal with quick slant passes, screens and 8-15 yard passes with an astounding amount of YAC (yards after the catch).

Eli Manning has had a career year this season. Criticized before this season for saying he was an elite quarterback in the same class of Tom Brady, Eli responded with a spectacular regular season breaking a record for the most fourth-quarter comebacks. The Giants have also experienced a renaissance in their receiving core with the additions of Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks. Both the Patriots’ and Giants’ passing attacks are clicking on all cylinders and both will be able to put up impressive numbers as the Giants and Patriots pass defense were ranked 29th and 31st respectively; therefore, the game will likely come down to the running game.

Surprisingly, the Giants running game was ranked dead-last in the NFL this year with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad struggling all season. Lost behind the brilliance of Tom Brady, the Patriots running game was ranked 20th among all teams. The Patriots were able to rush for 96 yards against the Ravens, the toughest-run defense in the NFL, in the AFC championship and will need success against the Giants’ mediocre run defense.

If the Patriots are going to win this game, they will need to rush for at least 150 yards. Look for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, “the Lawfirm,” to have a spectacular day with close to 130 rushing yards by himself to go along with two rushing touchdowns. Brady will throw two touchdowns and zero interceptions while Manning will throw two touchdowns and one interception. In a high scoring game, the Patriots will pull away in the fourth quarter behind the run-game of the Lawfirm and an ill-timed turnover by the Giants.

Tom Brady will win his fourth Super Bowl ring Sunday and any questions regarding whether the Patriots have had a dynasty this past decade will be erased with a fourth Super Bowl win in 11 years. Manning will not be able to win his second Super Bowl ring but he has firmly established himself among the elite NFL quarterbacks with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

Patriots 34 Giants 24
Super Bowl MVP: BenJarvus Green-Ellis

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