Looking Like Legitimate Champions

The Giants proved they belong.

With an NFL-record 10th straight win away from the cozy confines of the Meadowlands, New York played like a team that deserves to be in the Super Bowl.

It starts with their versatility. The Giants faced one of their toughest tests yet, as Green Bay’s offensive line shut down their pass rush and gave Brett Favre time to work in the pocket. That meant that the secondary needed to play at its best and running back Ryan Grant had to be stopped. The linebackers and safety Gibril Wilson took care of the latter, holding Grant to 29 yards and forcing the Packers to rely on Favre’s arm. The Giants had trouble in the first half containing Donald Driver, especially when he tossed aside defensive back Corey Webster at the line of scrimmage and turned a short pass route into a 90-yard score. Nevertheless, they held Favre to short throws underneath on third downs (of which the Packers converted only one of 10 attempts).

A Super Bowl team also needs depth. Plaxico Burress, who had had a quiet postseason, looked completely healthy for the first time in months, as he used his height, crisp route-running and great hands to beat gifted cornerback Al Harris for 154 hard-earned yards. But the focus should be on another receiver who has been as valuable as Burress: rookie Steve Smith, who has played admirably in these postseason games. With just under two minutes to play in regulation, Eli Manning threw a ball over the middle to the USC alum, who cradled the pass to turn a second-and-fifteen into a near-first down. Later in that drive, Smith caught another reception that set up Lawrence Tynes for an attempt at a game-winning field goal. Despite the missed kick, Smith stepped up at exactly the right time when the Packers finally double-teamed Burress.

That Super Bowl-worthy depth also includes the Giants’ tandem running backs. Brandon Jacobs had no luck cutting around the edge or up the middle against Green Bay’s quick linebackers. As he did against the Cowboys and the Buccaneers, Ahmad Bradshaw took over rushing for the Giants and was more effective than his larger counterpart. New York’s ability to change the pace of their offense is exactly what can win a championship game.

New York showed another facet of a championship-caliber team in overtime: patience. Despite Tynes’ two botched field goals and even losing the coin toss at the start of overtime, awarding receipt of the kickoff to Green Bay, the Giants didn’t stray from their game plan. They were waiting for Brett Favre’s Achilles heel to appear. In high-pressure situations, the future Hall of Famer tends to become a gunslinger.

In an attempt to play hero, he forced passes downfield when he really should have tightened up and played a safer game. The pass intercepted by Webster that led to the Giants’ victory was exactly what New York was looking for. Instead of playing conservatively against Favre, coordinator Steve Spagnuolo blitzed Favre, looking to force the game-changing mistake the Giants had waited for. And it paid off.

New York isn’t just another NFC team waiting to be steamrolled by an AFC juggernaut. They’re playing like champions.

Looking Like Legitimate Champions