The Giants Won’t Snap the Patriots’ Undefeated Season This Time
Those who cite Giants head coach Tom Coughlin’s stellar career record against Bill Belichick often forget his two biggest wins against the Patriots have largely been of the flukey variety.
In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants had the undefeated Pats on the ropes as the game was coming to a close. But with 2:42 remaining in regulation, Tom Brady found Randy Moss in the corner of the end zone to put New England up 14-10. The only barrier between the Patriots and 19-0 was a defensive stop, and if it weren’t for perhaps the luckiest catch in NFL history, that’s what they likely would’ve achieved.
Patriots fans can recount the painful details in their sleep: On a 3rd-and-5 from his own 44-yard line with 1:15 left in the fourth quarter, Eli Manning narrowly avoided a sack and ran back in the pocket. He heaved the ball down the field to David Tyree, who caught it … on his helmet. Yes, his helmet. The Giants were awarded a first down on New England’s 24-yard line and scored the game-winning touchdown four plays later.
Tyree’s miraculous reception isn’t the only reason why the Giants won that game. Their ferocious pass-rush sacked Brady five times and kept the then-most potent offense in NFL history at bay. But if it weren’t for the Helmet Catch, the Patriots would’ve almost certainly exited Glendale, Arizona with their undefeated season intact.
Four years later, with 4:06 left in Super Bowl XLVI, the Patriots were minutes away from closing out the Giants yet again. They were leading by two points and facing a second down from New York’s 44-yard line when Brady hurled a deep pass down the left side of the field intended for Wes Welker, who recorded a league-leading 122 receptions that season. Welker had plenty of space and the ball hit him in his hands. But inexplicably, he couldn’t come down with the catch that would’ve probably iced the game.
The Patriots were forced to punt and the Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown on their next possession with just a hair over a minute remaining. For the second time in four years, the G-Men captured the Lombardi Trophy with an assist from Lady Luck. (Rob Gronkowski wasn’t healthy for that game, either, which likely contributed to the Giants’ victory.)
Unlike other head coaches in the league, Coughlin isn’t intimidated by Belichick. The two men were both assistants under Bill Parcells with the Giants in the late 1980s: Coughlin coached the wide receivers and Belichick was the defensive coordinator. They are peers who came up through the ranks together.
Coughlin holds a 5-1 career record against Belichick and the Giants have won three of their last four meetings against the Pats. But on Sunday, the matchup isn’t in New York’s favor. The Giants’ pass-rush is no longer fearsome. It’s anemic, along with their entire defense.
— Sean Leahy (@leahysean) November 11, 2015
Gone are the days of Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora up front. Now, the Giants’ best defensive lineman is an essentially one-handed Jason Pierre-Paul, who will be playing in his second game of the season Sunday after a Fourth of July fireworks accident that forced him to amputate his right index finger.
On top of their personnel deficiencies, the Giants no longer seem to be the crisply coached team Patriots fans remember. During their season-opener against the Cowboys, the Giants were leading by three points with 1:43 to play and were on Dallas’ one-yard line. But instead of running the clock out on third down—the Cowboys had no timeouts left—Manning threw the ball away. Dallas retained possession with 1:34 to go and scored the game-winning touchdown.
Two weeks ago against the Saints, in the midst of giving up 52 points, Giants punter Brad Wing was flagged for a face mask on a New Orleans punt return with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The 15-yard penalty set up the Saints in field goal range and kicker Kai Forbath booted home the game-winner as time was expiring.
Contrary to Coughlin’s past success against Belichick, the Patriots are the better coached club. Like most Sundays, the Pats will have the advantage on the field and on the sidelines, Super Bowl ghosts be damned.