Wasn’t yesterday’s SuperBowl a fitting finale to a wonderful NFL season and post-season ? Of course, my judgement may be somewhat colored by the fact that the Giants won , but I don’t think so. Even had they lost, I’d still feel good about a regular season enlivened by the Packers and the Saints , the records set by Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, the emergence of San Francisco , the rookie exploits of Cam Newton ,and the Giants amazing turnaround , a postseason filled with exciting finishes and the N.Y. Giants heroics which culminated in yesterday’s thrilling victory.
Thrilling, it certainly was . The head to head duel between Tom Brady and Eli Manning, the stout defense played by both sides, the uncharacteristic drops by the Patriot receivers, the chess game between Belichick and Coughlin , Brady’s amazing escapability,Manningham’s remarkable catch, Eli’s clutch play… who could not be entranced by it all. Here are some thoughts on the game:
The biggest surprise: The effectiveness of the Patriot defense. Reviled throughout the season for their play and perceived as New England’s weak link , they came through, big time ,early on, sacking Eli twice and disrupting the Giant offense after that first TD. For most of the game , they blanketed Victor Cruz , stopped Brandon Jacobs cold and did not give up any long gains.The Giants receivers and Eli Manning were made to work for everything they got . Yes , Wilfork and Co. played their hearts out and have nothing to apologise for .
The Giant defense: while the game was going on , I was a little disappointed that the pass rush didn’t get to Brady that often. Later on , I began to realize that a) they were very effective in that there was constant pressure on Brady and that he was several times hurried into his throws , b) they ( particularly JPP) knocked down several of Brady’s passes and c) Brady several times avoided being sacked by the slimmest of margins, ducking and weaving away from his pursuers.
The quarterback play: As far as I am concerned , Brady is already in a class with Montana. His quick release, his pinpoint passing and his smarts make him dangerous when he has the ball. Each time he has the ball , I feel he is going to march his team down the field for a TD. (It’s a feeling I also get when I watch Drew Brees , Aaron Rodgers and the Manning Bros). If Rob Gronkowski had been 100% yesterday , the game might have ended differently. As for Eli Manning , yesterday he was fully Brady’s match.He was patient in the early going , took the short stuff the Pats defense gave him , kept the Giants offense on the field for long stretches and might have scored more were it not for some stupid penalties.On the final drive he was magnificent and that sideline pass to Manningham was a thing of beauty.I don’t judge QB’s by the number of Super Bowl rings they have and I think that if Eli just continues to play at this level for a few years more he will be considered the equal of his brother.In one respect I think he is superior to Peyton : the San Francisco game and the fearful beating he took while guiding the Giants to victory showed me an unrivalled toughness.
Turning points: Many pundits point to the drop by Welker as a turning point in the game. Others talk about Mario Manningham’s magnificent catch which took the Giants from deep in their own territory ,broke the hearts of the Patriot defense and positioned the Giants for their victory clinching drive. Yes, those were definitely turning points but so was Chase Blackburn’s interception of the Tom Brady bomb. At the time the Patriots were in the lead and another TD would have put enormous pressure on the Giants. Gronkowski had gotten behind the defense and would have had an easy TD had he caught the ball. Blackburn sprinted back and not only boxed out Gronkowski( no mean feat by itself ) but intercepted the pass and snuffed out the Patriot threat. And to think that in late November, Blackburn was at home taking care of the baby and thinking finding about a regular job. Good thing the Giants called and brought him back . Now he has a Super Bowl ring and a memory to last a lifetime.
Joe Namath was wrong : when he changed his mind in midweek and picked the Patriots to win. His reasoning was that the Giants were doing too much trash talking and were not focussed on the game the way the Patriots were.I read the comment and was a little concerned . After all Joe Namath knows football , doesn’t he? He had been right with the previous prediction , the one he made for Super Bowl III. That he was wrong showed me two things a) experts aren’t right all the time and b) not to read too much into players actions off the field. For myself , I had thought that , despite the oddsmakers making New England the favorites, that the Giants had the edge . On Saturday morning , I met my neighbor when I went out to collect the mail. He , like me , is a Giant fan and naturally the topic soon turned to ” Who do you think will win ?”. Both of us thought that the Giants should be narrowly favored to win but we were wary of the Belichick- Brady nexus . The last thing I said to Mike was ” If the Giants can keep it close until the half , they should be able to win .” My reasoning was that , as long as the Giants were able to weather the storm early , Eli would guide them home . And that’s exactly what happened.
Belichick and Coughlin: I watched the post game show and saw the each of the coaches meet the press . Never was the difference so glaringly obvious. Belichick is a great , great coach but he’s a disaster behind the mike. Granted it is very difficult to talk to the press when your team has just lost the Super Bowl , but Belichick was at his graceless worst ; mouthing inanities, repeating himself , stonewalling the reporters , revealing nothing of his thoughts or emotions. That’s just the way the man is and I don’t think he’s ever going to change . By contrast , Tom Couglin was gracious in victory , deflecting praise onto his players and coaches , commending the Patriots for playing hard and well in a close fought game . As contests go, the Giants won this one too.
The unsung heroes: Tom Coughlin and the Giant players are being given credit for yesterday’s win and that’s he way it should be . However, there were people working behind the scenes whose contributions were also vital and should be recognized. The first is the Giant GM , Jerry Reese, to whom should go much of the credit for building this team. He has a terrific eye for talent and was responsible for drafting Hakeem Nicks and Jean Pierre Paul ( both first rounders ) and Mario Manningham ( 3rd rounder) among others . He has seamlessly reshuffled the Giants O-line and known when to stand firm . He was harshly criticized for letting Steve Smith sign with the Eagles but look who stepped in as a slot receiver… Victor Cruz. He’s also been fiscally prudent in trading for free agents and as a result the Giants are deep at almost every position. Two others to mention are the Giants coordinators , Perry Fewell and Kevin Gilbride. Fewell , in particular, has been outstanding . Under the previous incumbent, Bill Sheridan , the once proud Giant defense put together by Steve Spagnuolo, had fallen on lean times. Fewell reversed the slide , gave them back their pride and after some missteps during the regular season , had them peak for the playoffs. Kevin Gilbride has often been criticised by Giant fans ( including myself) for his stodgy offense but , in the playoffs , he opened it up a little and gave Eli opportunities to throw the long bomb. No wonder Eli stuck up for him yesterday .
It is so rare when ” your ” team wins a Super Bowl or even appears in one. There are fans who have never had that pleasure. Me , I have had that good fortune twice in the last four years , four times in the last twentysix.I’m going to savor the next few days as I read as many sports pages as I can and re-live the game over and over and …
GO GIANTS !!