“We’ve been here before,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said at the time, “and we’ll get back.”
Boy, was he right.
The Giants were facing elimination against the rival Jets and Rex Ryan, who boldly declared that his team ruled 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 the 2008 season.
New York dominated Atlanta at home in the opening round. Then came a stunner: a 37-20 victory at Green Bay _ knocking out the defending Super Bowl champions.
“I’m just proud of the guys, what we’ve overcome this year, what we’ve been through,” Manning said, “just never having any doubts, keep believing in our team that we could get hot and start playing our best football.”
New England hopes to avoid all 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 considering that 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.”