Not only is the front four playing well, the linebackers are stopping the run and the secondary is covering so well that quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Alex Smith rarely were able to hit their primary targets in the playoffs.
“To be honest, I think our confidence is very high,” said second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who led the Giants with 16 1/2 sacks in the regular season. “We know what we have to do and what’s at stake.”
If Brady meets the same fate as those other recent quarterbacks and he’s ducking the pass rush, the Patriots are going to have big problems.
“That’s where our energy comes from,” Fewell said of his front four. “That’s where our confidence comes from. That’s where our swagger comes from, because those guys _ unlike most teams you are associated with _ they set the tone for us. They are the catalyst for what we do and how we do it.”
Umenyiora has no doubt the Giants will get to Brady and put their imprint on the game.
“They’re going to definitely do some things to keep us off of him, max protections, short throws, quick throws, but they can only do that for so long,” Umenyiora said. “Whenever we have opportunities where he does hold the ball, we’re going to have to get to the quarterback.”
The Giants also have gotten a little lucky heading into this one. Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a high sprain to his left ankle in the AFC title game against Baltimore. It probably will reduce his effectiveness.
Offensively, Eli Manning has had a career year, and the Giants can match the Patriots point for point. With New York’s running game struggling much of the season, the key will be keeping Manning upright. San Francisco sacked him six times and hit him 20 times overall in the NFC title game.
However, the Patriots D isn’t in the same category as 49ers. The Patriots allowed the second-most yards in the NFL during the regular season, and their secondary repeatedly got burned for big plays.
Vince Wilfolk will stuff the middle but Manning should have a field day against a shaky New England secondary. There’s no way Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and nickel back-receiver Julian Edelman stop Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham and tight end Jake Ballard.
Championships often are decided by a big play, and Cruz and Nicks have been turning little plays into touchdowns all season. There likely will be chances for more of those.
With both offenses so formidable, former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy felt the game was going to be decided by a special teams play, a blocked punt or field goal, or some other play.
“Both teams are here because of special teams plays,” Levy said. “When you get two very closely matched teams, which I think they are, look for the kicking game to determine the outcome.”
Not likely. Not with the Giants’ defense.
Final score: Giants 31, Patriots 17.