Monday, February 6, 2012

Super Bowl Recap; Is There a Blueprint?

In a decade that has featured a slew of exciting and intriguing Super Bowl conflicts, Acts I and II of the Giants-Patriots showdown are the defining sports moments for the lives of every sports fan under the age of 25.  The Giants and Patriots might not even qualify as rivals - they’ve played just five times over the last 11 years.  Yet, you can throw away every other “rivalry” if you want to find one that can match the intensity, quality of play, and overwhelming degree of mutual respect that is displayed in these iconic games. 

The greatest sports organization over the last 11 years has dominated every team except for one that people too often dismiss and underrate.  The New York Giants, a team whose seasons are defined not by gaudy statistics and blowouts, but, rather, scrutiny, head-scratchers, and a constantly criticized head coach, have proven once again that they should be unquestionably placed among the NFL’s supreme, classy, and most cherished organizations. 

New England is the team of the decade, but the truth is more evident now than ever before: The Giants own them.  The Giants know it, the Patriots know it, the fans know it. 
I'm going to go ahead and say my halftime
prediction was pretty damn close.  
The Giants won because they fell on the better side of two crucial plays during the game’s final 1:30.  Bradshaw’s touchdown was one of these.  Always the unconventional thinker, Belichick made a decision too few coaches ever do – in the waning moments of the game, he let the opposing team score to take the lead.  The flip side of this situation is that the team with the ball doesn’t want to score, or so thought Eli Manning, who was apparently the only Giant to suggest to Bradshaw that he should go down at the one yard line.  Pundits ripped Bradshaw after the victory, claiming his decision put the ball into the hands of Brady and could have cost the Giants the game. 

I disagree.

First off, if the Giants had decided as a team that they would not score on what turned out to be the game winning drive, then why even call a running play at all?    Doing that risked a botched snap, fumble, holding call, or God knows what else that could have taken the Giants out of the driver’s seat.  If that was the plan all along, Manning should have just taken a knee, forced New England to burn its final timeout, then had Tynes kick the game winning field goal from 20 something yards out.   

Ravens players and fans will tell you that’s a foolproof plan.  

The truth is, Bradshaw made the right play at that point in the game.  It wasn’t like Belichick walked over to Coughlin before that play and said, “I’m gonna let you guys score.”  How could anyone on the Giants roster have assumed that would happen?  Put yourself in Bradshaw’s position.  It’s the final minute of the Super Bowl, the ball is in your hands, you break through a hole in the line, have a wide-open lane to the end zone in front of you, and all your momentum carrying you forward.  Now, at this moment, do you think it’s easy to just fall on your ass?
How quickly we forget the disaster that
can befall a team that relies on special teams
I would have rather seen the Giants force New England to burn an additional timeout and then score, but they should have run it into the end zone, no doubt about it.  A Giants field goal would have left Brady with about 20 seconds, but he would have only needed to get to New York’s 35-40 yard line to get a legitimate shot at a field goal as opposed to the touchdown he needed after Bradshaw’s run.  Is it really outrageous to think Brady could have conceivably completed two passes along the sideline when the Giants would certainly be in prevent coverage? 

Challenging endeavor? Yes.  More difficult than driving for a touchdown in 50 seconds?  Maybe.  Impossible?  Absolutely not. 

The second development to favor the Giants was obviously the failed hail marry.  Does a healthy Gronkowski get to that ball?  I almost think he does.  Does a healthy Gronkowski lead to a Patriots victory?  Maybe it would have, but no team in the NFL this season has had more of a legitimate injury excuse than the Giants, who at times this year probably had more guys on the injury report than the number of hairs on Coughlin’s head. 

Football is about overcoming those injuries and I don’t think New England handled the Gronkowski situation well enough.  The Giants had to respect him early in the game, but the millions upon millions of people watching last night knew within the first ten minutes that Gronk was not himself.  He had no first step, no agility, and no physicality.  Hernandez had a terrific game, as I predicted he would, but this had nothing to do with Gronkowski acting as a decoy.  It took the Giants about as long as the fans to realize Gronkowski was not going to have a major impact on the game.  The Giants had the audacity to match Gronk with Chase Blackburn… and Blackburn won. 

Should Belichick have taken Gronkowski out of the game?  Well he would have had some major questions to answer if New England still lost.  How can you bench your game changer?  Doesn’t he give you a better chance to win than almost anyone else on your team besides Brady?  Both questions are legitimate, but then again, Brady probably wouldn’t have thrown an interception (which was actually more of a glorified punt) had Gronk been on the sidelines.     

Other Super Bowl Quick Thoughts:

   The intentional grounding call for a safety to start the game was the correct call.  You rarely see it called when a QB throws the ball over everyone’s head down the middle of the field, but Brady was not throwing to a receiver and therefore, intentionally grounding.  The whole quarterback-wide-receiver-different-page theory doesn’t apply.  The two deepest receivers were running out patterns across the sidelines and Brady released the ball well after any possible cut back up field could have conceivably taken place.  Not to mention, he floated it 25-30 yards past them.   

Ø  Eli’s second Super Bowl MVP puts him in Hall Of Fame company.  If he wants Canton talks for his respective career to become legitimate (a hall of fame discussion at this point is horrifically premature), Eli must either (A) win another Super Bowl and/or (B) have four to five more 4,000 yard, 28 touchdown, 13 interception seasons.  Only so many quarterbacks can get in from a given era, and he is still way behind Peyton, Brady, Brees, Big Ben, and Marc Sanchez (tried to sneak that one in).  All this said, nothing should be taken away from Eli.  He can certainly reach those benchmarks and his performance in Super Bowl XLVI will go down as one of the greatest ever. 

Ø   Dad… skip to the next point.  Nothing brings the two of us together like a good Coughlin bashing session, but I don’t think I can do it anymore.  Two Super Bowls is all one needs to say to debunk any criticism, at least for the time being.  It seems like just a day ago that people were wondering if the Giants could have been better off with a brash coach like cross-town Rex Ryan.  How wrong that notion truly is.  While Giants players display the same bravado that has made Rex (in)famous, Coughlin is the reserved curmudgeon who’s calm demeanor serves as the perfect juxtaposition.  His quiet confidence has infected Eli Manning and is one of the many catalysts for Giants’ success this season.  Not to mention, it is Kevin Gilbride who is responsible for much of the notoriously conservative play calls offensively.  Then again, with his second Super Bowl with the team, you cannot criticize him either. 
Maybe Rex Ryan should consider taking a page out of Coughlin's
Ø  Steve Weatherford should have been Super Bowl XLVI MVP. 

Ø  Looking ahead to 2012, I see no reason why either team should expect anything less than what they accomplished this season.  The Giants will be more experienced (namely JPP, Cruz, Nicks, Amukamara), Eli is going to have the confidence of Genghis Kkan, and the Eagles and Cowboys seem utterly incapable of stringing together four good games in a row.  Likewise, New England has to be the early favorite to repeat as AFC champs because of the growing weakness of the AFC, a better Gronkowski-Hernandez duo, and, of course, Brady and Belichick who, despite what New Yorkers will tell you this morning, are still the best quarterback-head coach combination in the NFL.   

There is no “blueprint” to defeat Tom Brady.  The idea that there exists a step-by-step plan that any team can just apply to their scheme and then be able to rattle one of the NFL’s all time greatest players is utterly ludicrous.  But, by the time Brady took the field to win it with a minute left, I already knew it was over.  Why?  Because now the Giants could employ their three all-pro defensive ends at once and drop everyone else back in coverage.  In obvious passing situations, there is nothing an opposing offensive line or quarterback can do to relieve the pressure New York’s big three can produce. 

Two weeks ago when I began my coverage of the Super Bowl, I started by saying that “even third string wide receiver Mario Manningham is too good for any of New England’s defensive backs” and ended my two week extended column by laying absolutely zero validity to the claim that Julian Edelman would be even 1% successful against New York’s wide receivers.  That should have been the entirety of my predictions.  The fact in the matter is New England should have never had a chance.  The discrepancy between New York’s great receivers and New England’s furthest-from-great DB’s was the defining story line.  No other mismatch for either team carried with it comparable implications.      

New York kept Brady off the field with their consistent passing game and made his life hell by pressuring him with just four guys once he was finally on it. 

That isn’t a blueprint to defeat Tom Brady; it’s a blueprint to win a Super Bowl.    


1 comment:

  1. Well written, you do a great job.

    I think the line that best describes the game is, The Giants had better talent, therefore they didn't have to play perfect to win (failed pass rush, almost fumbles, no red zone offense).

    The Pats needed a near perfect game to overcome their deficiencies, and they almost did (twice), but fell short.

    225 Seward