The last NFL game of the 2011 season kicks off this coming Sunday in Indianapolis as New England and the New York Giants square off in Super Bowl XVLI. It marks a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants defeated the Patriots 17-14 in one of the most exciting Super Bowls in history.
“It’s a great chess match with two elite quarterbacks and two teams with great traditions and great histories,” says NBC’s Al Michaels, who with Cris Collinsworth will broadcast the game on NBC. "It should be a terrific matchup.”
It's the first Super Bowl in which both starting quarterbacks have won a Super Bowl MVP award. New York quarterback Eli Manning passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns – including the game-winning 13-yarder to PlaxicoBurress with 35 seconds remaining – in Super Bowl XLII and was named the game’s MVP. New England quarterback Tom Brady has been named Super Bowl MVP twice (XXXVI, XXXVIII) and is one of only four players in NFL history to win the award multiple times, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Joe Montana (XVI, XIX, XXIV), Terry Bradshaw (XIII, XIV) and Bart Starr (I, II).
For the first time in NFL history, the Super Bowl will feature two teams coming off three-point victories. Both Championship Games were decided by three points and the combined differential of six points is the closest ever for the Championship Games. An average of 53.7 million viewers watched the AFC and NFC Championship Games, making it the most watched Championship Game Sunday since January 10, 1982.
“This is a big game for the Giants organization,” says Manning, who is one of only two players (Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, 1990) to take his team to the Super Bowl with back-to-back 300-yard passing games in the Divisional Playoff and Championship Game. “This is a big game for every single player who’s going to be playing in this game. You hope that you can go out there and play the best football that you’ve ever played. That’s always the goal.”
New York has won seven NFL championships (1927, 1934, 1938, 1956, 1986, 1990, 2007), the third-most in NFL history. The Giants enter Super Bowl XLVI having won five games in a row, outscoring opponents 141-67. Head coach Tom Coughlin has guided the team to a second Super Bowl appearance in his tenure, joining Bill Parcells as the only coaches in franchise history to accomplish the feat.
“I’m delighted and excited,” says Coughlin about advancing to Super Bowl XLVI. “These guys have gone out and done it against the best that we’ve played.”
The Giants (9-7) – who defeated Atlanta (10-6), Green Bay (15-1) and San Francisco (13-3) – are only the second team to reach the Super Bowl via playoff victories over three opponents with a better regular-season record than its own (Arizona, 2008).
In the NFC Championship Game, Manning passed for 316 yards and two touchdowns in the Giants’ 20-17 overtime victory at San Francisco. Wide receiver Victor Cruz had 10 catches for 142 yards and his 10 receptions tied for the second-most in a playoff game by a Giant. Wide receiver Mario Manningham caught one of Manning’s touchdown passes and is the first player in franchise history with a TD catch in three consecutive games in a single postseason.
“It feels great because it was a tough game,” says Manning. “We had to fight for every yard that we got. I’m just excited about having another chance to go to the Super Bowl and play New England.”
Defensively, defensive end Justin Tuck – who had two sacks against New England in Super Bowl XLII – had 1.5 sacks as the Giants recorded three sacks against the 49ers. “Our confidence level is high and we feel good about where we are as a team,” Tuck told USA Today. “We feel confident that we can play with anybody.”
On special teams, Devin Thomas recovered a pair of fumbles on punts which lead to 10 points. In overtime, Jacquian Williams forced a fumble on a punt return that was recovered by Thomas. The turnover set up Lawrence Tynes’ game-winning 31-yard field goal. Tynes is the only player in NFL history to score the winning points in two playoff overtime games. In the 2007 NFC Championship Game at Green Bay, Tynes converted a 47-yard field goal in OT to send the Giants to Super Bowl XLII.
“It’s my second NFC Championship Game and my second game-winner,” says Tynes. “It’s amazing.”
The Patriots have won 10 consecutive games, with the team’s last loss a 24-20 defeat to the Giants in Week 9. New England has advanced to its seventh Super Bowl and fifth since the 2001 season.
Head coach Bill Belichick and QB Brady are headed to their fifth Super Bowl together, the most ever by a head coach and starting quarterback combination. The duo had previously been tied with Pro Football Hall of Famers Tom Landry-Roger Staubach(Dallas), Chuck Noll-Bradshaw (Pittsburgh) and Marv Levy-Kelly (Buffalo).
“It’s certainly a great honor to be representing the AFC in this game,” says Belichick. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity versus the Giants, who are a great team. They’ve had a great year and we know this is going to be our toughest game. We have a lot of work cut out for us but it’s exciting to have the opportunity to meet the challenge.”
Brady passed for 239 yards in the Patriots’ 23-20 win over Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game. He became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to surpass the 5,000-yard mark in the playoffs (5,009), joining Brett Farve (5,855), Montana (5,772) and Peyton Manning (5,389).
“We’re a pretty mentally tough team,” says Brady, who will start his fifth Super Bowl and tie Pro Football Hall of Famer John Elway for the most Super Bowl starts at QB. “There’s really some resiliency. We’ve shown it all season. We’re always going to fight to the end. It’s great to be part of a team like this.”
Against the Ravens, New England’s defense had three sacks and an interception while holding Baltimore to 20 points.
“Our defense saved us,” says Brady. “I’m proud of this team and my teammates.”
With the Patriots trailing 20-16, Brady rushed for a one-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. It marked the first go-ahead rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter of Brady’s career in both the regular season and playoffs. Brady is also just the third QB to rush for a fourth-quarter game-winning TD in the postseason, joining Kenny Stabler (1976) and Billy Volek (2007).
In his career, Brady is 16-5 (.762) in the postseason and his 16 playoff wins are tied with Montana for the most in NFL history. Belichick has compiled a 17-6 (.739) postseason record and his 17 playoff wins are tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs for the third-most in NFL history. They trail only Pro Football Hall of Famers Landry (20) and Don Shula (19).
“I expect greatness from this game,” Collinsworth told the Associated Press.
The game is also the third quarterback rematch in Super Bowl history. Prior to Manning and Brady meeting again, Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach have played each other twice with Bradshaw winning both times (Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XIII) and Troy Aikman and Jim Kelly have squared off twice with Aikman coming out on top twice (Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII).
This will be the second time that these two have met in the 2011 season. In week nine in Foxboro, the Pats blew a three-point lead late in their matchup with the Giants as Jake Ballard caught a 1-yard pass from Eli Manning with 15 seconds left to take a four-point win on November 6. In that game, the Pats were favored by 8 1/2 with a 50 1/2. This time, in the house that Peyton built, the Pats are still the favorites but this time around, it's a 2 1/2 spread. The over/under is a bit higher than the first meeting at 55.
During the 2011 regular season, Brady passed for 5,235 yards and Manning had 4,933 passing yards. The duo combined for 10,168 passing yards, which would be the most ever by opposing starting quarterbacks in a Super Bowl. Brady and Manning combined for 8,142 passing yards in 2007, which would rank fourth all-time.
We went 0-1 last week, which means that we're 156-105 for the season. Even if we miss this one, we're still above the .500 mark after going 7-9 to start week one. Now, having said all that and knowing that this is the last game prior to training camp, we present to you for the last time the drill (For those that already know, you are excused. The rest of you, pay attention. This is your last chance before the 2012 season kicks off.) After you go to the 4:30 vigil mass or the 9:30 mass on Sunday (the Saturday mass counts as a Sunday mass, people!), head to your favorite grocery store, deli or retail outlet (a trip to Costco, Wal Mart, Walgreens, Sams or Target does count!) and get the vittles and beverages. If you happen to get the double stuff Oreos, you might want to hide them from your cousin Connie. She's the one that weighs 110 pounds dripping wet and ate two bags of them and an entire Oreo cheesecake and downed it with a 2-liter Coke at your last Super Bowl party and didn't gain a pound. WTH? Invite the co-workers, including that guy from accounting with the bad combover and that red-haired kindergarden teacher that lives next door (the one that knows how to break down a cover two defense).
If for no other reason, this could turn out to be one of the better Super Bowls in the history of the league. There has never been a shutout in the 45 Super Bowls played and no game has ever gone into overtime. In the 45 games that have been played, the 90 teams that have been involved have scored a combined total of 2,058 points. 2 1/2's a lot to give but in the end, these are two pretty good teams. The Pats were the one seed in the postseason, while the Giants were a three seed. It's going to be a long day after church and if you flip over to the "Puppy Bowl" on Animal Planet at halftime, we can understand. However, there can be only one winner. Pats win football's answer to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry and cover the 2 1/2.
SUPER BOWL INJURY REPORT
NEW YORK GIANTS at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
New York Giants
PROBABLE - RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), WR Hakeem Nicks (shoulder), S Tyler Sash (foot), DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle, knee), CB Corey Webster (hamstring), LB Jacquian Williams (foot)
QUESTIONABLE - T Marcus Cannon (ankle), S Patrick Chung (knee), LB Dane Fletcher (thumb), TE Rob Gronkowski (ankle), DT Kyle Love (ankle), G Logan Mankins (knee), LB Rob Ninkovich (hip), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), T Sebastian Vollmer (illness, back, foot), WR Wes Welker (knee), LB Tracy White (abdomen)
PROBABLE - WR Deion Branch (knee), C Dan Connolly (groin), S James Ihedigbo (shoulder), T Matt Light (illness), WR Matt Slater (shoulder)
Weather for Indianapolis
New York Giants vs. New England Patriots (6:27 p.m. on NBC) - (Game indoors; if roof is open, clear and 28 degrees)
Logo and injury report courtesy the National Football League, odds courtesy USA Today, weather report courtesy the Weather Channel