by Rick Rockwell
When Plaxico Burress predicted an upset last week and that his team would keep the best ever offense in football from scoring more than 17 points, the media dutifully recorded the boast. And the undefeated opponents scoffed. And everyone merrily marched into Super Bowl weekend, with Las Vegas predicting a blow out.
Someone should have listened to Plaxico. This column included.
But who listens to these mouthy wide receivers full of braggadocio? There are too many of them spouting too many words. Burress. T.O. Ocho-Cinco. Randy Moss (until this year). Take them all away. They are a sideshow. Important to an offense, but not the main cog, no matter what they say.
But this time, Burress knew something. He wasn’t practicing due to an injury (much as he hadn’t practiced much of the season) so perhaps he was able to watch Steve Spagnuolo and the Giants' defese crafting a game plan for the ages.
Although this column didn’t think the New York Giants could pull off such a plan and become champions, last week, we laid out the blueprint. The battle of Super Bowl XLII would be won with a brutal line charge and the Giants defensive front led by Michael Strahan. Five quarterback sacks and many other in-the-backfield hits disrupted the high-powered offense of the New England Patriots. The undefeated season fizzled in a classic matchup that wasn’t decided until the final thirty seconds. The most-watched Super Bowl ever was also one of the very best.
Spagnuolo drew up a game plan worthy of the Patriots’ defensive mastermind and head coach Bill Belichick. Indeed, it was as if Belichick’s Giants of the 1990s had taken the field. And Belichick didn’t have the answers in response. Although both defenses dominated for most of three quarters, as the fourth quarter unfolded, the Giants found ways to break through the Patriots’ front.
Spagnuolo’s defensive wizardry may land him a head coaching spot in D.C. (if he really wants to come to a team with a dysfunctional megalomaniac for an owner). Of course, another former Giants coach (Jim Fassell) also seems to have an inside track for that difficult job, the only coaching vacancy left in the National Football League (NFL).
So where does that leave the season with just the meaningless Pro Bowl to play this weekend?
The Giants stand atop the league after a dizzying road run: they have set the record for consecutive road victories on their way to the championship. But all the teams in the National Football Conference East are playoff caliber so repeating (or even getting back to the playoffs) will be difficult.
The Patriots, a team that seemed to run on the anger behind the so-called Spygate videotaping scandal, may now have to answer to Congress. And apparently, all the facts aren’t on the table yet from years of illegal taping which was only exacerbated by the league’s decision to destroy all the evidence after the Patriots were punished for initial infractions uncovered this year. This scandal and Belichick’s rushed early exit from the stadium at the Super Bowl have put a cloud over the Patriots, or maybe another chip on their shoulder. Look for them to come out of the gate hard again next year as they attempt to shake off the usual curse that befalls losers of Super Bowls.
Even with all their talent, there is no guarantee the Patriots will return to the big dance next year. As the season progressed, it seemed teams figured out how to slow down the Patriots’ offense. Belichick will need to recalibrate in the offseason. As the Giants showed, a smash mouth defense and solid (but not flashy) grind it out offense is what wins championships.
Playoff Prediction Average: .727
Season Prediction Average: .682
See you in September!
New York Giants
New England Patriots
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by Rick Rockwell