Diary of a Giants Fan: Giants-Patriots Super Bowl Preview Part I
From 0-1, to 6-2, to 7-7, to Super Bowl XLVI. It's been a heck of a roller-coaster ride, and one that's worth a look heading into the big day. There's a time and a place to talk about the game itself - it's next week right here on 1045theteam.com - but for now, let's just look at how in God's name we got here.
The rope-a-dope. Ali may have invented it, but the Giants may have perfected it. In late November the G-Men looked weak, lulling the league to sleep, but now they've sent everyone else in the NFC tumbling to the mat, and are Super Bowl bound.
It all started in months ago with a triage unit of offseason injuries, mediocre expectations and a dissapointing week one loss to the Redskins. The Giants would rally, however, with a Monday night win over the hapless Rams (Sorry Spags, we still love you) - a win driven home by Michael Boley's celebratory frozen-rope off the dome of some media guy standing behind the end zone (rumor has it the Jacksonville Jaguars immediately contacted the Giants looking to make the line backer their QB). The game also brought about a season ending injury to Giant WR Dominik Hixon...Enter Victor Cruz (CRUUUUUUUUUUUZ!).
Indeed, the hour of the salsa was at hand, and it would be ushered in the following week in the Giants' first big triumph of the season - a road win over the Eagles - before we know they were a dumpster fire. The two TD performance wasn't just Cruz's (CRUUUUUUZ!) coming out party; it was the first of many virtuoso Eli Manning performances, and it was backed up the following week by Manning's - with a little help from a Victor Cruz (CRUUUUUZ!) Fumble-rooski - orchestration of another impressive road win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Suddenly the Giants were at 3-1, it almost seemed too good to be true...Turns out it was. The three game winning streak was devastatingly ended with a drinking-problem inducing loss to the Seahawks. But always the Rubick's Cube, the Giants would use that loss to spring board them into a winning streak. An impressive, tough win over the Bills - before their cataclysmic collapse - followed the Seahawks loss and was immediately followed by a win over the Dolphins. Integral in both, the late game heroics of one Mr. Eli Manning would then take center stage at Foxborough. In what was undoubtedly the best game the G-Men had played to that point, a 0-0 struggle at half evolved into a 24-20 Giant win in which the defense looked the best it had all season, and Eli Manning once again led a last minute, game-winning touchdown drive. It was an exceptional performance in every way for the Giants, and it set the stage for a big Giant season...
...And then the wheels came off. Sitting at 6-2 and riding a three game winning streak, Big Blue was staring at a hellacious stretch of games that would make the '72 Dolphins take pause...and it wasn't their best moment. Manningham dropped the game-tying touchdown - loss to the 49ers. Nobody showed up the next week - loss to the Eagles. Less people showed up the week after that - 1,142-9 loss to the Saints (that's how I remember it). Finally, in the fourth game of the month-long implosion,they got a great team effort; they pushed the Packers right to the brink, but still - a loss. Four games, four losses. 6-2, 6-6. Things were looking bleak.
But something happened in that Packer game. There was a stirring in this Giant team, Dr. Suess might say that their hearts grew three sizes that day. No longer were they the team that shrunk from the Saints. No longer were they the team that looked like a pretty decent UFL squad against the Eagles. Finally we were seeing the Giants. Our Giants. The Giants that can be down 12 with under six minutes to play against the Cowboys and, on the strength of Eli Manning's brilliant play, come back and take the lead inside of a minute, then seal the win with a JPP blocked field goal. And what started in the Packer game, what resurfaced in the arm of Eli Manning in the last six minutes of that Cowboy win, what vanished into anonymity in an absurd loss the following week to the Redskins, was about to be show itself in the most spectacular fashion against the Jets.
With the Giants floundering, struggling in a must win game and backed up on their own one yard line, Victor Cruz (CRUUUUUZ!) was about to officially stamp the Giant turnaround. Cruz (CRUUUUUZ!) took a modest Manning pass and Rumba-ed his way into the end zone. The 99 yard TD, coupled with the reemergence of the Giant defensive line, spurred the G-Men to, not only a win over the Jets, but a dismantling of the Cowboys in week 17 with the division on the line. The Giants had found their game.
It was about damn time, not to mention just the right time. The G-Men were getting hot. They were heading into the playoffs playing their best football, a trend that would continue as they throttled two teams with better records - including the prohibitive Super Bowl favorite - before going on the road and winning a thrilling overtime game in the wind and rain of San Francisco. And so they stand, champions of the NFC, a team on a roll, a team with an identity. It's been a magical, albeit mystifying run for the Giants. From the depths of utter dismay, to a Super Bowl birth. How in the hell did that happen?
Well, in a word? Defense. The resurgence of the Giant defensive line is the main reason that the G-Men have pulled themselves from the abyss. Since their return from their place of shame, the Giant defense has allowed 14, 14, 0, 20 and 17 points. Their vicious pursuit of the QB has taken all kinds of pressure off a linebacking and defensive back corps that spent the bulk of the year being repeatedly beaten about the head by below average quarterbacks, allowing them to play better. The whole defense was improving, though let's be honest, any talk of Giant success has to include one name above all others.
Eli. Manning. The "aww-shucks" Southern boy has been the only touch of consistency in this excitingly (horrifyingly) up and down season. Always an excellent clutch QB, Manning was - and I put this in the most professional terms I can think of - stupid good when it mattered. He set a record for touchdowns in the fourth quarter with 15, and his new found ability to move within the pocket and keep his vision down field has repeatedly saved the Giants. Always the leader, Manning has made a habit of taking his team on his back and throwing them to a win this year. He's been mobile - well, mobile for him - he's been accurate, he's been exactly what the Giants have needed. It may not have always been pretty, but look where he is. Look where he took his team.
Super Bowl XLVI. Against the Patriots. Again. This time around, however, the Patriots are only a, by comparison, lethargic 13-3. They blew through their rather easy schedule with only three losses; one to the Bills - before their collapse - the Steelers, and the Giants. Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Globo-Gym Rattlesnake Rob Gronkowski entered into the playoffs the AFC's number one seed and reached the Super Bowl after dispatching Tim Tebow before earning their first victory over a winning team last week against the Ravens. But despite the gaudy record, the Patriots haven't gotten much attention. Perhaps the public just doesn't like Bill Belicheck and his "homeless guy" dress anymore. Perhaps they're sick of Tom Brady and his gorgeous wife. Or maybe they got less attention because no one thought that a secondary in which WR Julien Edelman plays a significant role was something to fret about. I don't know. I'm not a doctor.
I've got to be honest here with you folks. While the Patriots might be the more favorable matchup than the Ravens, they weren't the ones I wanted. Super Bowl XLII was such a sweet, sweet victory; I didn't want to live for two weeks fearing that its glorious splendor would some how be lessened with a loss to the Pats. But then that Tynes kick sailed through the uprights and my father vehimently exclaimed, "Aw, screw it! Bring 'em on! We'll do it again." And that kind of reckless defiance fired me up. I realized that nothing can take away what 2007-2008 was. This is a new year, a new season, a new Super Bowl. So bring on the Ugg Model and his curmudgeonly, poorly dressed coach.
For now, we'll leave it there. 1045theteam.com is the place to be for Super Bowl prep, make sure check the site early and often next week, we'll bring you Part II and III of this preview, plus tons more. And as always, Go Giants!