Apparently, there's some history between the Giants and the Patriots. Something about a recent Super Bowl get-together where the upstarts did the impossible and beat the high-powered scoring machine.
Invariably, the Giants' miraculous win following the 2007 season over the 18-0 Patriots has become a storyline this week, four seasons later. Partly because the media will grab onto any hook they can find, but also because New York and New England haven't met since that fateful night in Arizona.
Many of the faces from that game remain, but a lot has changed, too. Michael Strahan has retired to television, as has Rodney Harrison. Then-Pats wideout Randy Moss, who had one of the best single-season receiving efforts ever was traded in the middle of the 2010 season and he's now out of football altogether. His departure has led the Patriots to revamp their down-the-field passing game for a more ball-controlled strategy. It's been pretty effective, but has limited New England's quick-strike capabilities.
The Giants have averaged 10 wins a season in the three years since, but haven't made the playoffs since 2008. The Patriots won 11, 10 and 14 games but missed the postseason in 2008, when Brady was lost for the season after suffering a Week 1 knee injury. Now both teams are 5-2, atop their divisions (in New England's case, they're tied with the Bills), and that adds some intrigue to Sunday's matchup.
But neither team is close to Super Bowl form. (You could argue that the Giants weren't in Super Bowl form when they won the whole thing. Duly noted.) The Pats are coming off a convincing loss in Pittsburgh where the Steelers' offense had very little trouble throwing all over New England's secondary. And the Giants barely beat the 0-6 Dolphins a few weeks after losing to the lowly Seahawks in the Meadowlands.
And now New England is taking heat for its play, something that rarely happens because the Pats usually win and Bill Belichick is rarely questioned for his personnel or coaching decisions. The defense, in particular, has come under some scrutiny.
"We all take part of [the criticism]," nose tackle Vince Wilfork said, according to ESPNBoston.com. "You’re not going to sit back and say, 'They catch the ball because they're not covered.' That’s part on us up front, too, not being able to get to the quarterback quick enough. It works hand in hand. It’s not track [and field], where you can go out and throw a shot put, or run the 100-yard dash and win a medal by yourself. You win together. And the quicker we understand that, the better we’ll be. I think we understand that.
"Trust me, I don’t want any of our defensive backs to think it’s their fault we’re not getting off the field on third down. Or they catch an in-cut 20 yards down the field -- 20 yards down the field, that gives us up front a lot of time to work, and get to the quarterback. We have to take some of the blame, and we are."
Wilfork's comments come a week after Belichick released Leigh Bodden, the team's most productive cornerback, and placed rookie CB Ras-I Dowling on injured reserve. That left New England in the unenviable (but clearly self-inflicted) position of having to use young, inexperienced corners against the Steelers' cadre of speedy pass-catchers.
Earlier in the week, Belichick said the cornerbacks weren't the problem against the Steelers, sentiments echoed by Wilfork above. And as ESPNBoston's Chris Forsberg writes, Belichick's remarks could be construed as indirectly blaming the safeties and linebackers.
Whomever's at fault, the Giants feature a balanced attack. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw might not play, but that doesn't mean New York won't pound the ball 30 times a game. And when they've established the run, expect quarterback Eli Manning to target one of his many downfield threats.
There's a chance Sunday could be a repeat of the Pittsburgh game for New England … except that the Giants' defense isn't nearly as good as the Steelers', and more than that, we just don't see Belichick and Tom Brady losing two games in a row.