Sunday, February 03, 2008

On the Couch: Super Bowl

Giants 17, Patriots 14

The difference in the game
In my opinion, the difference in this game was each team's ability to rush the passer and protect the quarterback.

The New York defensive line dominated the game. Individual players like Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Jay Alford kept making outstanding individual plays. Tom Brady had a record setting season in part because the New England offensive line consistently gave him time to throw; when given a chance to scan the field, Tom Brady will shred any defense. But the Giant pass rush consistently got to Brady, sacking him, knocking him down, putting him off rhythm. We haven't been used to seeing Brady knocked around, but that's what the Giants did.

On the other side, the Patriots brought a wicked pass rush against Eli Manning, but the Giants consistently did a solid job picking it up (and Manning did a solid avoiding rushers). The running backs (notably Brandon Jacobs) really did a solid job blocking blizters, and overall, the Giant offensive line did a much better job pass blocking than the Patriot offensive line.

Eli Manning: Super Bowl MVP
Though the Giant offensive and defensive lines deserve a lot of the credit, the problem of MVP is trying to find one player who stands out. In the first half of the game, Justin Tuck was MVP (it's pretty obvious why New York extended his contract). For the game as a whole, Eli Manning is a worthy choice. In the fourth quarter, the Giants had three real possessions. Manning twice threw go-ahead touchdown passes. He completed four of five passes on 3rd down, three of them converting to first down (on a 3rd and ten, he completed a nine yard pass that allowed a short 4th down run). In the fourth quarter, he made big play after big play. He's a deserving MVP.

(I should note that I have a football card of every Super Bowl MVP; when a lesser name player starts dominating early in a Super Bowl, I start fretting about when and where I'm going to get a card for that player. I've got plenty of Eli Manning cards, though).

An exciting fourth quarter
At the last Super Bowl, I noted that there was a madly exciting first quarter, followed by a rather ho-hum game.

Today most of the scoring of the game was saved for the fourth quarter. Now, I like good defensive football games. They can be dull if you don't care who wins, but if you've got a rooting interest, a low scoring game is very fun: every play becomes meaningful. Still, the fourth quarter was fun. The Giants went into the quarter down 7-3. Then they went up 10-7. Then then went down 14-10. Then they went up 17-14. That's a fun back and forth in the critical part of the game.

Individual Legacies
The Giants gave up a lot to acquire Eli Manning on draft day four years ago. But if you get a #1 overall pick quarterback, and four years later, that quarterback is the starter for your Super Bowl championship squad, you have to feel pretty good. Eli Manning's legacy is now secure: whatever else he does, he's a Super Bowl winning, Super Bowl MVP quarterback.

Michael Strahan has already had a Hall of Fame career as one of the best pass rushing defensive ends of the last ten years. Now when we look back, Strahan was a defensive force on two NFC championship teams and one NFL championship team. He's got a strong legacy, and should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

And how about Tom Coughlin? Now he's had successful runs with two different franchises, and he's capped it all off with a Super Bowl win. Once again we must remind ourselves that just because a coach doesn't win a Super Bowl with one franchise doesn't make that coach a failure. The head coaches of nine of the past eleven Super Bowl champions had previously coached with a different franchise.

What this means for the Patriot dynasty's legacy
At a wide look, a Super Bowl loss looks bad for the '00s Patriot dynasty. The '70s Steelers won all four of their Super Bowl appearances, as did the '80s 49ers. In that way, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana are always going to have something over Tom Brady.

But during those Steeler and 49er dynasties, there were of course years when they lost in the playoffs before reaching the Super Bowl. We shouldn't really hold it against the Patriot dynasty that in one of their non-championship years, they lost in the Super Bowl instead of earlier in the playoffs. If the Patriots go on to win another championship this decade, they're legacy will still match the '70s Steelers and '80s 49ers.

And though the Patriots didn't lose a game this season until the Super Bowl, I struggle to pin them with the "choker" label. They've already won three Super Bowls this decade; they can't be saddled with a choker legacy when they have three Super Bowl wins. Certainly, going into the Super Bowl at 18-0 and getting upset by a team that was 13-6 and mediocre by many standards throughout most of the season counts as a brutal loss. But going 18-1 this season without a championship doesn't negate three Lombardi Trophies; if Patriot fans are feeling down right now, they can of course consider that.

This loss does mean that players like Junior Seau and Randy Moss don't yet have Super Bowl rings. And it means that the 2007 Patriots, who would have had a trump card for any "greatest team ever" arguments, are now out of the discussion ("greatest team not to win the championship" arguments are now in play).

Is this a blip in the AFC's dominant period, or is the NFC now on the rise?
The AFC was the dominant conference in the 1970s, and the NFC was the dominant conference for most of the' 80s and '90s. The AFC has been far superior to the NFC for most of the past decade.

It's hard to say right now whether this is simply one year when the NFC pulled off the upset in a long run of AFC domination, or whether this game signals the pendulum's swing back to the NFC.

More on the way
We've now got many months without real football games; we'll definitely be back to make more meaning out of this Super Bowl.

2008 HOF debate: why Cris Carter is better than Art Monk


  1. Anonymous6:07 AM

    eli won the mvp with that last drive. he was terrific. the rest of the game he was up and down against a pretty good defense--just as he was up and down in the nfc championship game. but he made the plays with a gunslinger mentality--the bomb to toomer, the tyree play, the failed toss to burress.

    however as the defense as a whole won the game its too bad tuck or strahan couldn't of shared in.

  2. Anonymous7:34 AM

    i don't know if it's choking when you're beaten by the better team. remember when the lakers choked against the pistons?


  3. Belichick didn't prepare his team well enough and he didn't bow away from his game plan. He was coaching like he was playing against the Dolphins in a regular season game rather than the Super Bowl. His inability to recognize the need for more line help to protect Captain Sperm, his refusal to kick a field goal on a 4th and long, and his overall arrogance was his downfall. And for that, I thank him.