This is it. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. No, not jetpacks. I’m talking about something better. You must be curious. I can feel it. I can almost hear you thinking, “He must mean TWO jetpacks!” Well, you’re wrong again, and before you move on to three jetpacks, I’ll just tell you what I’m talking about: the Super Bowl. And to make it even better, it’s Manning vs. Brady.
Normally, when one hears those two names together, the Manning they think of is Peyton. Not this time. Five years ago Eli Manning met Tom Brady in the Super Bowl and gave us one of the most memorable and improbable endings to a football season ever, and because the Football Gods love us, in less than two weeks we get to witness part two.
For now, however, we shall have to content ourselves with looking back over how both of these teams made it to the Super Bowl. Last Sunday the Patriots eked out a three-point victory over the second-seeded Baltimore Ravens. Say what you will about Billy Cundiff. Sure, he should have made that field goal, but that should not at all detract from the Patriots’ victory. For one thing, missed field goals are a part of the game, no matter the distance. This one is no different and in no way illegitimates the outcome.
Secondly, the Patriots earned that victory. On a day when Tom Brady was not at his best and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien inexplicably called for a Hail Mary on a first down nowhere near the end of the game, the defense stepped up big time. I don’t know exactly why the Pats’ defense has been so much better over the past two weeks than it was over the course of the entire regular season, but after two spectacular showings there can be no doubt that they are for real. Vince Wilfork has owned the backfield lately and cornerback Sterling Moore continues to come up big in the clutch. If the defense can bring the same level of play to bear against the Giants and Tom Brady returns to form, they will be unstoppable.
That isn’t to say the Giants won’t be a challenge for the Pats. Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham will present a lot of problems for their secondary, especially with the way Eli has been playing of late. Truthfully, the Giants are probably the team best equipped to take advantage of the holes in the Patriots’ defense, which is still their weakness.
Yet the Giants are not without their problems. For one, Nicks is not at full health. He was banged up coming in to Sunday’s game and he was even more banged up afterward. Also, Manning is still having some accuracy troubles, though he has improved greatly this season. He missed several key passes to Cruz late in the game and some of the passes he made were more due to the skill of Cruz and Nicks rather than his skill at passing, and the Niners defense missed two interceptions that should have been easy pickings. Quite frankly the Giants didn’t really win that game so much as the Niners lost it. Had it not been for a couple of awful mistakes by the Niners’ special teams and a bad call on what should have been a fumble, it would be the Niners heading to the Super Bowl instead.
Again, none of that illegitimates the victory. All of those things are part of the game. The Giants deserve to be the victors because the Niners do not. Yet it took the Niners’ beating themselves for the Giants to win, and that won’t work against the Patriots. They don’t beat themselves. For the Giants to win, they are going to have to outplay the Patriots on both sides of the ball. Are they capable of doing that? Certainly, but whether they will or not remains to be seen.