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Perfection KO'd

Giants' D keys upset of Patriots in Super Bowl XLII

Posted: Monday February 4, 2008 7:36AM; Updated: Thursday February 7, 2008 12:53PM
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Giants defensive tackle Justin Tuck was all over the Patriots backfield Sunday night, leading a defense that posted a season-high five sacks of Tom Brady.
Giants defensive tackle Justin Tuck was all over the Patriots backfield Sunday night, leading a defense that posted a season-high five sacks of Tom Brady.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Super Bowl XLII
 
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"As Mike Tyson would say, 'Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.' "

--Michael Strahan, after the Giants punched Tom Brady in the face for most of Super Bowl XLII.

PHOENIX -- Strange game. First Super Bowl I've watched on TV in 24 years. Like more than a few of the visitors to the Valley of the Occasional Sun in a chilly week, I came down with some nasty fever and bug that landed me in Good Samaritan Medical Center for all of Sunday afternoon. I was feeling like a damp dishrag 'til about 9 last night in my hotel room downtown.

I have a feeling that, like you at home, I spent lots of time getting aggravated at the TV because there are more commercials than football in Super Bowls. Madness. So this is my health-abbreviated MMQB. Sorry the brevity comes in such a big week.

This was one of those Super Bowls that didn't require my attendance to interpret. The Eli Manning story is marvelous, and a great example of why you never give up on a top quarterback prospect too soon. He led one of the great drives a quarterback can lead to put the winning touchdown on the board. The game, though, was won by the Giants' defensive front seven. In holding the Patriots to a season-low 14 points -- their lowest offensive output in 24 games -- New York did exactly what teams have been trying to do to Tom Brady for years. They pestered him. They knocked him to the ground 23 times. They made him rush.

That was the recipe to beating New England, but we doubted the Giants could pull it off. In the Super Bowl preview story I wrote for Sports Illustrated last week, smart football people around the league agreed that the Giants' pass-rush would be the key to the game. "You can't be afraid to really change things up against Brady," Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said.

That's what the Giants did, disguising their linebacker blitzes far better than they had in the first meeting, the 38-35 New England win five weeks ago. The Giants needed to play defensive tackle Justin Tuck every snap, and move him around. "Put him over the center [second-team All-Pro Dan Koppen]," suggested Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan. "I'd like to see how New England would block that. Centers aren't used to blocking shifty guys.'' Then Ryan talked about "flybys'' -- swarming around Brady and knocking his concentration awry.

In conclusion, I wrote: "It adds up to a Giant task. If New York finds a way to hold Brady in check and win this game, it'll be one of the great accomplishments in NFL history.''

That's exactly what Sunday's game was. Brady led seven scoring drives when these teams met in Week 17. He led two Sunday night. Whereas in the first meeting the Patriots had a solution for every Giant pass-rush, New York confused the Pats all night. And for some reason, the Patriots far too often had left tackle Matt Light without blocking or chipping help on defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who had a field day teeing off on Brady in the second half.

If I'm a Patriots' fan this morning, I'm asking: What happened to the max-protecting job we did on the Giants the last time we played? Why were the linemen too often left alone on a fast track to block such great edge rushers?

"We never had a number on it, but all week long we talked about, even if [Brady] got the ball out, even if he completed the pass, we needed to hit him to somehow disrupt him,'' said Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. "We thought if we did that early, it would pay off in the end.''

The other storylines to an excellent and exciting Super Bowl:

The biggest upset in Super Bowl history? I think not. To say this is the biggest surprise ever, I think, is a slight overstatement. On the surface, a six-loss team beating an undefeated team is obviously a stunning development. But think back five weeks. The 38-35 New England win over the Giants -- when the Patriots were playing for history and the Giants for nothing but to get their offense back on track -- was a knockdown, drag-out brawl. If you watched that game, you knew a competitive game was possible in the rematch. Somehow, I can't imagine this being more of a surprise than Super Bowl III, when the Jets shocked the world and beat 17-point-favorite Baltimore.

David Tyree became this year's Max McGee. We've seen a few of these nondescript guys, such as the late old Packer McGee and Redskins running back Timmy Smith, get to be heroes because of one great game. Tyree will be a legend in Giant lore because of one great quarter. Amazing, too, because as Amani Toomer said, "He was dropping everything in practice Friday. "

Tyree beat all-pro corner Asante Samuel over the middle for a go-ahead touchdown with 11 minutes left. Then, trailing 14-10 with 75 seconds remaining, on a vital third-and-five play on the winning 83-yard drive, Manning got out of the grasp of Jarvis Green and about 15 other Patriots -- a Houdini-like sack escape -- and threw a lofty bomb 32 yards to Tyree. The receiver and Rodney Harrison leapt for it, and Tyree, with gloved hands, secured it against his helmet while falling down backwards. That's right -- against his helmet. The Giants scored the winning touchdown four plays later. "David Tyree saved the game for us,'' said Plaxico Burress.

Now Spygate will rear its head in New England. Last night was the Giants' night. The next couple of weeks could belong to a Congressional committee trying to get to the bottom of who the Patriots videotaped, when they videotaped and what benefit they derived from videotaping. ESPN reported yesterday what I feel is the absolute truth: If the league or Congress interviews former Patriot video man Matt Walsh, and it's proven that the team videotaped opposing teams' defensive signals in violation of NFL rules, Bill Belichick will be suspended.

Eli Manning has arrived. I said before this game that it wouldn't be too big for Eli, the same way the NFC title game wasn't too big for him. The aw-shucks kid will own New York now the way Derek Jeter owns it, because Eli overcame massive criticism and led an underdog team to a Super Bowl title. Those are the kind of Reggie Jacksonish players New York loves, those players who play big when the moment is big. Manning has come a long way from the guy admonished as a rookie by Tiki Barber to mind his body language because his slumped shoulders didn't inspire confidence. Now everyone wants to follow him.

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