FOX Sports Exclusive
Giants, Pats must create new memories
Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick were predictably drab when asked to reflect upon Super Bowl XLII heading into Sunday’s New York Giants-New England game on FOX.
“It seems like a long time ago,” Coughlin said during his Wednesday news conference.
Echoed Belichick: “It was a long time ago.”
Both head coaches know four seasons is an eternity by NFL standards. Only 21 members of the 2007 Giants and Patriots are still with their respective teams entering this first regular-season meeting between the two franchises since New York’s 17-14 upset.
Vince Wilfork is the last remaining active member of the New England defense (fellow defensive lineman Mike Wright is on injured reserve). Many of the key Super Bowl figures — Plaxico Burress, Michael Strahan, David Tyree, Randy Moss and Rodney Harrison among them — are now with new teams or retired. No player who scored a touchdown in that championship game will be on the Gillette Stadium field Sunday.
The mass turnover has tempered player comments about one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history. So have directives from Coughlin and Belichick to minimize the nostalgia in pregame media interviews.
Thank goodness. These franchises must start creating some new indelible memories rather than basking in past glory.
Not to knock just how close the 2007 Patriots came to a perfect season, the obstacles overcome by the Giants to win a championship or the regular-season success enjoyed by both clubs since. No franchise has a better record (40-15) over the past three-plus seasons than New England. The Giants rank seventh at 36-20.
But the combined playoff records of both teams since Super Bowl XLII is 0-3. That’s unacceptable considering the standard they set during the 2007 season.
The Giants haven’t reached the postseason since their 2008 campaign. New England lost at home to Baltimore (2009) and the New York Jets (2010), squandering a 14-2 record last season in the process.
Neither squad has fully regained its swagger since the problems that began following Super Bowl XLII. The 2008 Giants were rolling toward a potential Super Bowl repeat with an 11-1 record when the hero with the game-winning catch against New England fell from grace.
Burress was arrested on a felony firearms charge when a weapon he was improperly carrying discharged in a Manhattan nightclub. His subsequent suspension eliminated the top target in New York’s passing offense, a blow the Giants never could recover from. New York dropped four of its final five games, including a second-round playoff loss to Philadelphia despite having a bye and home-field advantage.
New England’s woes started even faster when Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2008 opener against Kansas City. Replacement quarterback Matt Cassel helped guide the Patriots to an 11-5 record, but that wasn’t enough to land a playoff berth.
By the time Brady returned to MVP form, New England’s defense began falling apart. The team still hasn’t adequately replaced the experience, leadership and savvy play by now-departed standouts like Harrison, defensive end Richard Seymour, and linebackers Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau. The Patriots enter the Giants game ranked last in the NFL defensively after being carved like a Halloween pumpkin by Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in last Sunday’s 25-17 loss.
“I wish there was a way we could just press a button or something (to improve),” Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty told New England media on Thursday. “But it’s just putting the extra effort into it, watching film together and doing all that stuff I think will pay off for us.”
If not? The Patriots will likely fall short once again, even with one of the greatest passers in NFL history under center.
Eli Manning has said he belongs in the same conversation as Brady and the NFL’s other leading quarterbacks. While such preseason comments created a to-do, Manning’s play has served as a reminder that you can’t spell “elite” without “Eli.”
Manning’s quarterback rating of 102.1 ranks behind that of only Brady (104.4) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (125.7). Manning also is thriving despite the Giants having an uncharacteristically poor rushing attack that is averaging 85.6 yards a game. The ground game may not be improving as starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw was diagnosed earlier this week with a foot fracture. The more one-dimensional the Giants become, the more is heaped upon Manning’s shoulders to carry the offense.
New York’s defensive line continues to provide strong pass rush and is finally healthy after ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora missed playing time earlier this season. Secondary depth, though, remains thin because of injuries.
The Patriots (6-2) have a far easier road to the playoffs than New York following Sunday’s contest. Although the schedule toughens with consecutive games against the New York Jets, Kansas City and Philadelphia, the combined record of New England’s final five opponents is 10-26. The Giants (5-2) have non-divisional games left against San Francisco (6-1), Green Bay (7-0), New Orleans (5-3) and the New York Jets (4-3) as well as four other NFC East matchups.
Another trip in Mr. Peabody’s way-back machine is inevitable if the Patriots and Giants meet again in Super Bowl XLVI. But the journey to come is far more relevant now to the Patriots and Giants.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to think about that game,” Brady said. “This isn’t the week for that.”