Parcells couldn't have designed his offense any better. The grinding attack, much of the time operating out of the three-tight-end set, ate up the clock and not so much kept the Bills' no-huddle offense off the field—you never keep an offense off the field—but delayed its entry and gave it a sense of urgency, a feeling that it had to score right away. "Two drives, that's all it takes, two of those long, time-consuming drives," Simms had said I two days before the game. "That's all it takes to screw up the other team's offense, to foul up the tempo of their game. You see them on the sidelines, getting all antsy: 'God, we've got to get something going.' It's all part of Coach Parcells' master plan, and it's taken me a while to understand that."
If one aspect of the Parcells system is predictable, it's the run-pass ratio. Against teams that are soft against the rush, New York will come out pounding and not let up until stopped. But against teams like the Bears, 49crs and Bills, which have success against the ground game, the Giants use the pass to set up the run. On Sunday, their ratio of running plays to passing plays on first down was eight to eight in the first half. In the second half it was 11 to four.
Parcells knew New York would move the ball against Buffalo. The major difficulty would be slowing down a Bills attack that had put up 95 points in two playoff games. The defense that Parcells, an old linebacker coach, teaches is linebacker-oriented. While other teams go into a nickel or dime defense and remove all but one linebacker, Parcells keeps at least three linebackers on the field at all times. He feels comfortable with them. He collects them.
He surprised a few people when he made Carl Banks his top draft pick in 1984, when the Giants were loaded with linebackers. Banks's brilliant All-Pro performance of 1986 was a big reason that New York went all the way that season. That was also the year in which Parcells drafted a rollicking 248-pound linebacker named Pepper Johnson in the second round. Johnson is an All-Pro this year.
"I want size on my entire defense," says Parcells, "not only on my front seven, but in my secondary. [Five of his nine defensive backs weigh 200 pounds or more, and no defender weighs less than 190.] The defensive backs have to be physical on the receivers, jam them. Sure, they'll get their share of catches, but they're going to pay for them."
That was the heart of the defensive scheme New York threw at Buffalo. Parcells was in charge of the overall concept, but the implementation was left to Bill Belichick, the brilliant, 38-year-old defensive coordinator who has head coach written all over him. Four Bills offensive players presented the most serious challenges: Lofton, who at 34 was enjoying a renaissance as a deep threat; the slot receiver, Andre Reed; Thomas; and, foremost, Kelly.
Lofton, who usually lines up on the left side, would be the responsibility of Williams, who comes in when the Giants go with five or six defensive backs, as they did on Sunday. Everson Walls, the right cornerback in the base defense, would use his ball-hawking skills at a deep safety position. "I told Perry to play off Lofton, to give him a little cushion," said Belichick. "The Raiders played right up in his face, and he killed them. He's so physical, and he has those long arms that get him by the initial bump. Then [Lofton and the cover man] get into a speed-quickness thing, and it's all over."
The first pass Kelly threw to Lofton was that 61-yarder deep down the left side that Williams tipped and Lofton caught. It set up a first-quarter field goal that tied the score at 3-3. The second one, in the second quarter, was another fly pattern, but Williams and Walls smothered it. That was the last time Kelly threw Lofton's way.
The primary responsibility for covering Reed, whose specialty is crossing routes over the middle and whose greatest talent is making the first defender miss him after he makes a catch, fell to Reyna Thompson, a cornerback by trade but a special-teams demon and a sure tackier. He took over for safetyman Greg Jackson, who for this game became what amounted to a linebacker on tight end Keith McKeller's side. Thompson's job was to keep Reed in a shallow route and steer him to the other side, where Banks was waiting.
Kelly worked Reed to death, aiming 11 of his 21 first-half passes his way, six of them on crossing routes in which Reed got hammered. Reed caught seven balls, but by intermission he was dropping passes. In the second half he was a non-factor, catching the one pass Kelly threw him, a five-yarder. "No other team ever hit me this hard," said Reed afterward. "You can't even compare this to anything I've ever been through. They bruised up my whole body."