By Dennis Waszak Jr./The Associated Press
A Super Sequel.
Four years after New York stunned previously undefeated New England in the Arizona desert, the Patriots and Giants are going at it again at the Super Bowl — this time in Indianapolis.
Brady and Belichick. Eli and Coughlin. Both teams rolling through the playoffs.
Yep, here we go again.
New England, which lost to New York 24-20 in early November, opened as a 3-point favorite for the Feb. 5 game. The Patriots have won 10 straight, with their last loss being to — you guessed it — the Giants.
“We know they’re a great team,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. “We played them already this year. They’ve been playing great football recently.”
It’s familiar territory for Tom Brady and the Patriots (15-3), who are playing in the Super Bowl for the fifth time in 11 years.
“Being in this situation is a great moment,” Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “You have to cherish this moment.”
It’s the Patriots’ first appearance since Manning and the Giants (12-7) upset New England’s pursuit of perfection in 2008. Back then, New England was a 12-point favorite, but New York’s defense battered Brady, and Manning connected with Plaxico Burress on a late touchdown to win the Giants’ third Super Bowl.
That TD came, of course, a few moments after one of the biggest plays in playoff history: Manning escaped the grasp of a few Patriots defenders and found David Tyree, who put New York in scoring position by pinning the football against his helmet for a jaw-dropping catch.
New England hopes to avoid that sort of drama this time around. Unless it goes in the Patriots’ favor, as it did in the AFC title game.
Brady was unusually subpar in the Patriots’ 23-20 victory over Baltimore, throwing for 239 yards with two interceptions and, for the first time in 36 games, no TD passes. But he got some help from the Patriots’ much-maligned defense, which made some crucial stops down the stretch.
A few mistakes by the Ravens helped greatly, too, as Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds left — soon after Lee Evans had a potential winning touchdown catch ripped out of his hands in the end zone.
“Childlike joy. It’s all about childlike joy,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “Last night felt like the day before Christmas for me and I haven’t had that feeling in a long time.”
New England last won the Super Bowl in 2005, a long drought after the Patriots took home Lombardi trophies three times in four years. There are only a handful of players left from that team, with guys like Corey Dillon, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison replaced by young up-and-comers such as Mayo, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
“It doesn’t even feel right, especially playing with the veterans here,” Gronkowski said. “I watched them go to the Super Bowl as I was growing up, and now I’m part of it? It is an unreal moment.”
The constants, though, are Brady and Bill Belichick. And that’s been a winning combination for New England.
Belichick did perhaps his finest coaching job, piecing together a defense that ranked second-to-last in the league during the regular season. That led to plenty of shootouts, and Brady was more than up to the task, throwing for a career-high 5,235 yards while tossing 39 touchdown passes.
“They’re an amazing team,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “They’re a great brotherhood; they’re a family.”
The Giants appeared on the verge of collapsing with Tom Coughlin’s job status in jeopardy just a month ago, when they fell to 7-7 with an embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 18.
“We’ve been here before,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said at the time, “and we’ll get back.”
Boy, was he right.
“I’m just proud of the guys, what we’ve overcome this year, what we’ve been through, just never having any doubts, keep believing in our team that we could get hot and start playing our best football,” Manning said.
The Giants were facing elimination the following week against the rival Jets and Rex Ryan, who boldly declared that his group was king of New York. Well, Coughlin’s crew silenced Ryan with a 29-14 victory. The Giants followed that with a 31-14 win over Dallas in the regular-season finale to clinch the NFC East and get to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
New York dominated Atlanta at home in the opening round. Then came another stunner: a 37-20 victory at Green Bay — knocking out the defending Super Bowl champions.
Manning extended the best season of his career with one more solid performance. Specials teams proved the difference in overtime, as Jacquian Williams forced a fumble on a punt return and Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants past the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 for the NFC title.
“Hats off to Eli, offense, defense,” Tynes said. “Great win.”
And now, it’s off to Indy. Giants-Patriots, one more time.