Sunday, February 03, 2008

Four-front


During the hypnotizing hype (as the great Joe Posnanski calls it) of this ridiculous two-week hiatus between football games, I've passed some time attempting to temper my surging arrogance about a certain dynasty's immediate destiny.

I reminded myself that this is exactly how St. Louis Rams fans felt six seasons ago. I paid proper respect to the strengths of this admirable if mouthy Giants football team - the thunder 'n' lightning running duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the fierce Strahan/Umenyiora-led pass rush that surely will test Tom Brady's re-booted ankle, the height advantage talented Plaxico Burress holds over the Patriots' shrimpy cornerbacks. I even wondered if my desperation to witness the completion of a flawless season is blurring the line between what I hope happens and what is likely to happen.

I considered, pondered, even worried a little . . . I tried, honestly I did. But in the end, my forced attempts at humble concern were as bleepin' hopeless as the underdog's chances tonight.

The New England Patriots are going to pulverize the New York Giants this evening. Think Steve Young vs. Stan Humphries. Fetal Tony Eason vs. the 46 Defense. The How 'Bout Them Cowboys vs. the hapless Bills. A mismatch for the ages.

It's been a redemptive run through the postseason for Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin, and the Giants, a team that has legitimately suffered more skeptics and doubters than the Patriots could ever imagine. (And admittedly, a lot of the Patriots' are imagined.) But all logic suggests their bandwagon will go careening off the road today, and football fans everywhere will be left rubbernecking at the wreckage.

We'll keep this simple. To stay with the Patriots today, the Giants will need every positive event from their 38-35 loss in Week 17 - four red-zone TD passes from Manning, a kick return for a TD, a stalled Patriots running game - to reoccur. And the will need to eliminate every mistake they made in the previous meeting while containing, if not entirely shutting down, a Patriots passing attack that is sure to be rejuvenated in the Arizona sun.

To stay with the Patriots, they are the ones who will have to be perfect. And the chances of that happening are roughly the same as the chances of Brady ditching Gisele to go back to Tara Reid.

This is how it's going to go, people. The Patriots will pull ahead early, Brady finding Randy Moss deep once or twice against the Giants' spotty defensive backfield, and suddenly Manning will find himself playing from behind against a Patriots defense that will undoubtedly reveal wrinkles and complexities he did not see in the previous meeting. For a quarterback who considered a disappointment if not an out-and-out bust six weeks ago, it's a recipe for embarrassment. When it's all over, Archie Manning will remember why Peyton was always his favorite.

Yes, today will bring the culmination and the coronation. Nineteen wins, zero losses, a legacy that will endure for all time. Do you really think a team led by Bill Belichick and Brady, a team populated by savvy veterans, a team that knows its way around a Super Bowl or four, will let football immortality slip from their grasp?

Not a chance, which in part explains why Belichick was in such an unusually jolly mood this week. He knows his team is ready for its closeup, and nothing - not Eagles fanboy Arlen Spector's curiously timed grandstanding, not Matt Walsh's vague insinuations, not even the look-at-me pleas for attention by the likes of Merril Hoge and Gregg Easterbrook - can bring them down. In fact, that's the irony that is somehow lost on their haters and skeptics. Their doubts feed the beast. I've never seen another professional sports team that so effectively converts sleights - both real and imagined - into fuel come game time.

Which is why, at roughly 10 p.m. this evening, we'll bear delightful witness to one final act of vengeance. The confetti will rain, the Patriots will reign . . . and Roger Goodell, a fake plastic smile creasing his face, will have to hand over the Lombardi Trophy to Bill Belichick.

If that isn't the perfect final scene to a perfect season, well, just you tell me what is.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Hall of Famer:


A long overdue honor for 'ol No. 56, and a rather fine way to kick off the Patriots-centric weekend as well.

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