Pats-Giants in Super Bowl again, 4 years later

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“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.”

The constants, though, are Brady and Bill Belichick. And that’s been a winning combination for New England.

Belichick did perhaps his finest coaching job, piecing together a defense that ranked second-to-last in the league during the regular season. That led to plenty of shootouts, and Brady was more than up to the task, throwing for a career-high 5,235 yards while tossing 39 touchdown passes.

“They’re an amazing team,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “They’re a great brotherhood; they’re a family.”

The Giants appeared on the verge of collapsing with Tom Coughlin’s job status in jeopardy just a month ago, when they fell to 7-7 with an embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 18.

“We’ve been here before,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said at the time, “and we’ll get back.”

Boy, was he right.

“I’m just proud of the guys, what we’ve overcome this year, what we’ve been through, just never having any doubts, keep believing in our team that we could get hot and start playing our best football,” Manning said.

The Giants were facing elimination the following week against the rival Jets and Rex Ryan, who boldly declared that his group was king of 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 2008.

New York dominated Atlanta at home in the opening round. Then came another stunner: a 37-20 victory at Green Bay _ knocking out the defending Super Bowl champions.

Manning extended the best season of his career with one more solid performance. Specials teams proved the difference in overtime, as Jacquian Williams forced a fumble on a punt return and Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants past the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 for the NFC title.

“Hats off to Eli, offense, defense,” Tynes said. “Great win.”

And now, it’s off to Indy. Giants-Patriots, one more time.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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