FOXBORO Biggest difference between the Patriots-Giants matchup in Super Bowl 46 compared to the one four years ago?
This time, the teams are very much the same.
There are teeth being gnashed along the Eastern Seaboard this morning about the Patriots not deserving to be in the Super Bowl (Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo is calling it the unSuper Bowl and vows he wont watch . . . a certain blow to TV ratings).
The Patriots lucked out, the thinking goes. Lee Evans' touchdown-that-wasnt. Billy Cundiffs high draw into the lumberyard. The two biggest horseshoe moments for New England since the words, After reviewing the play, the quarterbacks arm was going forward were uttered 10 years and three days previous.
The Giants? Lost amid their latest Road Warrior stampede through the playoffs is a play from Week 14. With 2:25 remaining and the Dallas Cowboys ahead 34-29, Tony Romo saw Miles Austin walk free on a third-and-5 go route. Free as in noooobody near him. And Romo threw a very Romo touch pass inches out of Austins reach.
If completed, the Giants were on their way to their fifth straight loss and a 6-7 record. They wouldnt have had the leg up in the NFC East division race. They almost undoubtedly wouldnt have been in the postseason at all.
And we wont even get into the Jason Pierre-Paul field goal block on Dan Bailey with six seconds left in that game, snuffing out a tie.
Or the two punt return stupids by Kyle Williams on Sunday that kind of handed the Giants their Super Bowl tickets.
The Giants and Patriots are both lucky and good. And flawed and brilliant.
Both are anchored to quarterbacks who lugged them here, Tom Brady and Eli Manning.
(Aside on Eli: Have you ever seen so much conversation about whether a guy deserves to have an adjective attached to his name? Its absurd. Elite, not elite. Whatever. Yet it dominates dominates media coverage and conversation. Put it this way: right now, hes been one of the NFLs top five quarterbacks in 2011. Last year he threw 25 25!!!! interceptions. Great year for a talented player. But to be in the class of Brady or his own brother hes got to be a little more consistent than that, right? So hes elite and Brady is transcendent and Rodgers and Brees are next level. Can we go with that?)
Both have defenses that are . . . suspect. But both defenses have had days where theyve been forced to make up for uncharacteristically bad play by their leaders. The Patriots doing so Sunday. The Giants doing so more often for Eli.
But check out these stats on New Yorks defense. They allowed 400 points, 25th in the NFL. The Patriots allowed 342 (15th). The Patriots were the 31st pass defense in terms of yards allowed (4,703). The Giants were 29th (4082). The Patriots had 40 sacks; the Giants had 48. Opposing quarterback rating against? 86.1. For both teams.
Both teams are run by old school, no BS coaches, acorns that fell from the Parcells coaching tree that have now at least in Bill Belichicks case grown taller and stronger than the Tuna.
And both have impressive ownership families both in business and in character.
But the thing they both share this season that they didnt necessarily in 2007? Resilience. The Patriots of 2007 were so powerful, so overwhelming, they didnt deal with a lot of on-field adversity (off-field? Different story).
The Giants did deal with it, as their three road playoff wins before Arizona showed.
The Patriots have had to build their character. In 2009, they were a malignant, unlikable team with little chemistry and maturity. In 2010, much better guys but they hadnt learned mental toughness to the point where they were able to deal with in-game adversity. They were frontrunners.
This season? Theyve had to battle back from deficits in seven of 10 games during their winning streak. And the last team they couldnt come back on, the one that out-resiliented them? The Giants back in Week 9.
On the outside these teams may not look much alike. But underneath the skin? The Giants and Patriots are mirror images.