Patriots-Giants very different since Super Bowl XLII

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Patriots-Giants very different since Super Bowl XLII

FOXBORO -- Prior to the Patriots' final preseason game, against the Giants on Sept. 1, Bill Belichick was asked to think back to Super Bowl XLII in Arizona.

On Wednesday, Belichick was asked a similar question, but not just about that Super Bowl loss. It was also about the most recent preseason game, and what the Patriots took out of that while game planning for this Sunday's game.

"I think there's some things you can take from that, obviously," said Belichick. "It's not like a regular-season game. Personnel-wise, there weren't a lot of matchups. They didn't play a lot of the players that will be playing in this game.

"Still, there's some basic Xs and Os, and there's some matchups that are relevant."

The Giants played pretty much none of their starters in that final preseason game, which New York won 18-17. The Patriots, meanwhile, played their starters into the second quarter.

It marked the third time the Patriots and Giants have met, since New York's 17-14 win over New England at the Super Bowl in February of 2008.

All three of those games have come in the preseason, where it's tough to take a team's game plan, and convert it to a meaningful regular-season strategy. The Giants have defeated the Pats in the last two of those preseason games. Just like the Super Bowl, it's all in the past.

But any time Belichick plays Eli Manning and the Giants -- from now until Belichick's retirement -- he'll be asked about the past. Not about the preseason. Not even about the regular season. But about Super Bowl XLII.

If the Patriots had won, perhaps it wouldn't be such an issue. But that's not the case.

The Giants entered the second half of that Super Bowl, trailing 7-3. They then scored 14 fourth-quarter points on Belichick's defense, including Manning's game-winning 83-yard drive in the final minutes that saw a miraculous catch by David Tyree on 3rd-and-5 that kept New York's drive alive and led to a Plaxico Burress 13-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left on the clock.

It wasn't enough time for Brady and the Patriots' offense, and 19-0 turned into 18-1.

Sunday's game against the Giants will be the first time since that Super Bowl, in which the result will matter. It's not the playoffs, but it's no longer a preseason tilt.

Still, memories of that Super Bowl loss will rise to the surface for Patriots fans this week.

As for the team itself? Belichick said he won't think about it more than any other past game.

"We won them, we lost them, but they're all in the past," said Belichick on Wednesday. "They're in the books. Whatever happened or didn't happen, we can't change it. It's part of history. And right now, I'm focused on getting ready for this week's game. That's the way it is every week. Focus on the week that we're playing, not what happened in the past.

"I think we're probably pretty much over that. Whatever the thoughts were after the game, they've come and they've gone. It's what it is. You can't change it.

"That was a long time ago," added Belichick. "There's not really a lot of players. There's a few players, there's not a lot of players that are playing in this game that played in the Super Bowl. There's certainly a lot that are playing Sunday that didn't play in that one, that are critical players to both teams in the game. So I think there's a lot that's changed."

A lot has changed on both sides, with schemes and personnel. And while the memory of that Super Bowl is more pleasant for the Giants, they feel the same way, entering Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium.

It's in the past.

"We're in the moment, very much, just like anybody else that's involved in this current 2011 season," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin in a conference call on Wednesday. "And we are focused on our opponents week in and week out, and that's where our attention goes.

"I don't think about it. I haven't spent a whole lot of time thinking about that. It seems like a long time ago. I certainly was very proud of our players and very happy for our team, our franchise, and our ownership. And I'll always cherish those memories, there isn't any question about that. The New England Patriots were a team that had gone through the regular season undefeated, which is a feat that is very, very, very rare, indeed. And they deserve credit for that. So, that's the extent of it to me. I'm trying to live in the moment."

Curran's Sunday 4-pack: So, what HAS Tom Brady been up to?

Curran's Sunday 4-pack: So, what HAS Tom Brady been up to?

Six days – four quarters of football – remain in Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.
 
The fact is the Patriots are 3-0 and have gotten a long – and enjoyable – look at their quarterback depth behind Brady. Brady, meanwhile, has gotten a chance to shave one-quarter off the season-long wear-and-tear he takes.
 
But highlighting silver linings and pointing out there’s not much sand left in the suspension hourglass is no real consolation. Said one team source Thursday night, “It’s never going to go away.”
 
What’s Brady been up to? Mixing family time and working out. He’s routinely spent four hours a day training, I’m told, presumably with his body coach Alex Guerrero at TB12 Sports Performance at Patriot Place. Also, aside from his Sunday session with Wes Welker, Brady’s been throwing to young college players at undisclosed locations, eschewing the opportunity to bring in some of the “name” former players who’ve reached out and offered their services.
 
Spotted in Italy with wife Gisele Bundchen last week, Brady’s also been back home in San Mateo visiting with his family.
 
Speaking to two people close to him, I was told he succeeded in making peace with the time off and avoiding the creep of too much bitterness. I was also told he’s unbelievably motivated to return at a high level and wants his transition back to be seamless in terms of performance and conditioning. That last part is, of course, to be expected. But it will be interesting to see how Brady does perform out of the gates after a month’s forced exile.
 
NINKOVICH RETURNS, TOO

The lesser of the two suspended prodigal sons set to return next week – Rob Ninkovich – is no doubt going to benefit physically from the quarter-season vacation as well. And the defensive ends who’ve performed well in his absence – Jabaal Sheard and especially Chris Long – will do well to have Ninkovich back in the mix. Mention should also be made of Trey Flowers who has shown up in opponent’s backfields on a weekly basis. It depends on what your personal cup of tea might be, but through three games, Long seems to me a much better defensive fit for this team than Chandler Jones. Jones was the more explosive pass-rusher but Long’s ability in the running game, and his play-in, play-out impact in applying pressure on the tackle in front of him makes it seem so far as if he’s an upgrade.
 
NEW DEALS AHEAD?
 
Still no word on which Patriot may be in line for a new deal since the team restructured Devin McCourty and freed up some cap space.

Donta Hightower, Malcolm Butler and Jamie Collins have been seen as the most likely targets for extensions and a redo of Hightower at this point would whittle down his $7M cap number and possibly allow another extension to be executed for either Collins or Butler, as our Phil Perry pointed out.  Jabaal Sheard, meanwhile, is the Patriot who flies under the radar when extension talk starts. He may be every bit as important to the success of the Patriots defense as the other three.
 
REX WRECKS
 
The Bills are 0-2, the natives are beyond restless in Buffalo and the Cardinals are in Western New York on Sunday. The Bills are expected to play without wide receiver Sammy Watkins and are a team staring into the esophagus of 0-3 with a visit to the Patriots coming next week. Have a gander at the Bills Mailbag in the Buffalo News.  Seems like years since Rex was all giddy about the paint job on his new truck. It was less than 19 months ago.