Breakdown On The Front Line

Through 18 games the Patriots successfully avoided the external pressures of an undefeated season to reach history's doorstep in Super Bowl XLII. But on a night that was supposed to be a coronation of sorts, a different pressure caught up with Tom Brady and Co. as the New York Giants' talented defensive front harried, hurried and beat up New England on the way to the shocking 17-14 upset.

Put simply, the Giants took one of the elite offenses in league history and held it in check save for two drives, including a 5:12 march to a go-ahead touchdown with just under three minutes to play. Otherwise the heavy underdogs kept Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' troops from finding any offensive rhythm.

"Everybody is beatable," said Giants veteran defensive end Michael Strahan, who finished with three tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits. "There is a way to get to anybody. And for us today, the way to win this game was to get to Tom Brady."

The pressure held the Patriots record-setting offense to six fewer points than its lowest single-game total of the season. Brady was sacked five times for a total loss of 37 yards, including a 6-yard Strahan sack in the third quarter that after which Bill Belichick chose to attempt a fourth-and-13 rather than a 49-yard field goal attempt.

Heading into the game, New England's offensive line was in the midst of its best season as a group. Three players - Matt Light, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen - earned Pro Bowl honors as the unit allowed just 21 sacks despite Brady's 578 regular season pass attempts, a total that ranked second in the league.

And with Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur both healthy for the biggest game of the season, not the case when New England held the Giants front to a single sack in the 38-35 season finale win, the outlook for the unit to at least hold its own against New York's impressive pass rush looked positive.

But that's not what played out on the pristine green grass of University of Phoenix Stadium, a beautiful surface Brady got to see up-close all too often. The Giants led the NFL with 53 sacks during the regular season and showed why on Super Sunday, taking the Patriots offense totally out of synch. While Brady's final numbers - 29-of-48 for 266 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions - look good enough, they don't tell the story of dominance the Giants front put forth.

Randy Moss, who was held to just one catch in the first three quarters, saw the defensive dominance as a one-unit wrecking crew.

"I don't think their secondary did anything overwhelming," Moss said. "I think it was their pass rush, their front four is what really set the tone for four quarters. I think their secondary is just ordinary ... it was just the pass rush that is really what set the tempo."

Likewise, Giants defensive coordinator and hot head-coaching candidate Steve Spagnuolo credited his talented front for setting the tone without too much extra help. He estimated his team blitzed only 30-35 percent of the time.

"I have to give credit to the four guys up front," the first-year coordinator and former Eagles assistant said. "We hung our hat on those guys all year long and we did it again and (it paid off)."

It certainly did as New York pulled off one of the great upsets in Super Bowl history and turned New England's perfect season into an unbelievable nightmare.


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