FOXBORO – Go ahead. Admit it. You’re a Patriots fan and you’re scared to death of the Giants defensive line.
Fully healthy, they appeared ready and primed to repeat their devastation of four years ago.
And every Patriots fan is wondering: Is there any hope at all of keeping one of the greatest defensive fronts of all time from wreaking havoc with Tom Brady’s passing game and wrecking another Super Bowl dream?
In the last two games that mattered, Brady has been sacked seven times - five in Super Bowl XLII and twice on Nov. 4 in a 24-20 Giants win.
The Giants have an all-world front of Justin Tuck, Chris Canty, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Those four names are among the most feared in the eyes of any NFL quarterback.
"They can rush the passer," Brady said Thursday. "There’s no doubt about that. In playing them before, you understand that they can – they stripped sacked us on our own 10-yard line or something like that when we played them last. They get a lot of turnovers. They put a lot of pressure on you with their front four. They have a big, physical group that plays really well together."
One way to beat any pass-rushing scheme is on the ground. And the Giants front four gave up 121 yards per game in the regular season, and have given up five yards a carry in three playoff games and an average of 120 yards a contest in wins over the Falcons, Packers and 49ers.
The question is: Will the Patriots be dedicated enough to run it down their throat with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley?
The Giants came into Foxboro on Nov. 4 and the Patriots ran the ball just 24 times for 106 yards while passing 49 times. And it’s not like the Patriots were desperately trying to catch up as Manning led his team down the field in the final minute.
Brady was sacked twice that day and intercepted twice while throwing a pair of touchdowns, one to Rob Gronkowski and the other to AaronHernandez.
Wonder if Bill Belichick will give old friend Mike Shanahan a call this week? He should.
It was Shanahan’s Redskins who had the best and most-recent success against the vaunted Giants defensive line – the most feared weapon in Super Bowl XLVI.
Though truth be told, Belichick should be really asking Shanahan how he forced Eli Manning into three interceptions while holding him to a season-low 45.5 passer rating and keeping him out of the end zone in a 23-10 shocker at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 18, a week after the Patriots beat the Redskins in Washington in a shootout.
History reveals getting to Manning is probably the only shot the Patriots have a chance against one of the most fearsome defensive fronts in NFL history.
"You watch them play against the 49ers," Brady continued, "they played a great game defensively. They gave up two points against Atlanta, which was on a defensive score. They’re a great football team and they have a great defense. Every time we play them, it’s, you talk about their defense, their pass rush. It’s going to be a good game –we have our work cut out for us."
Since the shocking loss to the Redskins – a loss that nearly kept them out of the playoffs - the Giants responded with a must-win over their rival Jets, 29-14, before dispatching of the Cowboys in a "win-and-in" game on Jan. 1.
It’s a defensive line that rivals the Rams’ "Fearsome Foursome" led by Deacon Jones, the Vikings’ “Purple People-Eaters” led by Jim Marshall, Gary Larsen, Carl Eller and Alan Page in the 60s and 70s, and of course, Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” of the 70, led by “Mean” Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes, Dwight White and L.C. Greenwood.
Substitute Pierre-Paul for Michael Strahan and add Chris Canty and you have the same basic weapon the Giants used to beat up Brady in Super Bowl XLII.
Now, all that stands between the Patriots and a fourth Super Bowl title is one of the best defensive lines of all time.
The Patriots were sharply criticized for that lack of adjustments in Glendale in Feb. 2008. No draws, no quick screens and not enough quick slants and timing patterns to catch the Giants up field in their pursuit of No. 12.
The Patriots rushed for just 45 yards and didn’t have a run for longer than nine yards that day. Brady was sacked five times. The Patriots offense - which averaged 411 yards per game in going 18-0 - gained just 274that day.
"We felt like we could [dominate them]," Strahan said after the game. "We’ve [did] that all year. I guess everyone thought that we’d done it all year. We led the league in sacks, we do it in the playoffs and supposedly, when we get against the Patriots, we’re supposed to not be able to pass rush. That’s what we do. We stopped the run, as well. There was nothing special. We felt like we could do it from the beginning and did not listen to anyone who said we couldn’t."
Funny thing is, now four years later, everyone IS expecting them to do it.
And the Patriots will be more than ready for the onslaught.
And maybe that’s the biggest reason to think the outcome will be different this time around.
The Patriots know that if they don’t handle the front four, they’re dead.
Now we introduce something that’s been 20 weeks of regular season and postseason games in the making:
The first annual 'Traggies': Recognizing the truly great and memorable moments of the 2011 Patriots.
Most Valuable Patriot: Tom Brady
Really, is there any question about this? He had another epic regular season, setting a new high for single-season passing yardage with 5,235 yards, 39 touchdowns, just 12 interceptions and a season passer rating of 105.6. He set a new NFL playoff record with five first-half touchdown passes against the Broncos in the Divisional playoff, and tied an NFL record with six for the game. He is the unquestioned leader on and off the field of this team.
Runners-up: Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski
Most Improved Patriot: Rob Ninkovich
Since we didn’t want to just single out rookies who improved over their first year, this is a catch-all category. The Patriots defense was torched early on this season and looking for an identity. There were players that needed to step up their level of play to help Vince Wilfork on the defensive line and Jerod Mayo in the linebackers group. Ninkovich was a force late in the season, helping set an edge on the run game that wasn’t there early in the season. Aside from a blip in the first quarter against the Broncos in Denver, the Patriots managed to handle the run game, allowing Belichick to go more with nickel and dime coverages to help his secondary in coverage. Ninkovich’s play setting the edge was key to this.
Runners-up: Brandon Spikes, Kyle Arrington and Nate Solder.
Best offensive player: Rob Gronkowski
Again, this is a fairly obvious choice. The Gronk destroyed opposing linebackers who tried covering him in space and safeties who triedtackling him downfield. He set two NFL records for tight ends with 17 receiving touchdowns and 1,327 receiving yards.
Runners-up: Brady, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez
Best defensive player: Vince Wilfork
The heart and soul of the defense, Wilfork earned this honor on his play in the AFC championship win over the Ravens alone. Six tackles, one sack, three tackles for a loss and a quarterback hit. He played more snaps this season than at anytime in his previous seven seasons.
Runners-up: Jerod Mayo, Andre Carter, Mark Anderson
Best play: Gronk’s catch-and-destroy against the Redskins
It was a catch that defined the Patriots season. Brady found Gronkowski in the right flat as a release as the Redskins were rushing. Gronkowski caught the ball and broke five tackles, tip-toeing 49 yards down the right sideline to the Redskins 11-yard line. Brady hit Gronkowski in the end zone on the next play. The Patriots won, 34-27.
Runners-up: Welker’s 99-yard TD vs. Dolphins, Gronk’s juggling TD vs. Broncos in playoffs.
Best game: AFC Championship
It had everything, including a miraculous ending that had owner Robert Kraft giving thanks to his late wife Myra, his “angel above,” as the Patriots watched as Sterling Moore knocked the potential game-winning TD from Lee Evans’ hands with 20 seconds remaining and Billy Cundiff hooked a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining to seal New England’s seventh AFC championship.
Runner-up: Broncos playoff game, win over the Cowboys at Gillette, loss to Bills
Let’s go to the Trags Bag where followers certainly didn’t disappoint in offering up their opinions:
@0_LayDX: @Trags #TragsBag Best highlight has to be the game winning TD against the Cowboys.That drive was ice cold and machine like.
@HuskiesPats22: MVP=TB12, Improved=Solder, Off=Gronk, Def=Big 75, Game=Week 10 Jets, Highlight=Gronk flip Chiefs @Trags #TragsBag #Patriots
@amcda004 @Trags MVP Wilfork, improved Arrington, Offensive Gronk, Defense Wilfork, Best game @Redskins, best highlight: Gronk's diving catch vs skins
@aliweitz @Trags MVP=brady, improved=hernandez, offensive=gronk, def=wilfork, game=denver postseason, highlight=gronk TD in denver game #tragsbag
@Rich__Hill @Trags MVP: Brady, MIP: Nate Solder, BOP: Rob Gronkowski, BDP: Vince Wilfork, BG: WC Pats - Broncos, BP: Gronk's catch vs WAS (Hall watches)
@stacky88 @Trags #TragsBag mvp-Gronk,mip Arrington,off-Gronk,def-Wilfork, game playoff win against Den, highlight Gronks catch against Den in playoffs
From Jeff Leger on Google+:
Most Improved: Gronkowski
Best Offensive Player: Brady
Best Defensive Player: Wilfork
Best Game: Week 10, crushing the Jets on the road
Best Highlight: Welker's 99 yard touchdown
Super Bowl predictions next week in the Trags Bag. What’s yours for Super Bowl XLVI?