It is going to be tough to top Championship Sunday.
The Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl by squeaking past the Ravens 23-20 thanks to a dropped pass in the end zone and a missed field goal by Billy Cundiff. It was a tight game that was thrilling right down to the last moment. You don't usually get two of those in the same Sunday.
We did this year. The Giants and 49ers played one of the better defensive football games you'll ever see that went all the way to overtime. That's when 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams botched a second punt, handing the ball to the Giants deep in 49ers territory and leading to a game-winning field goal by Lawrence Tynes. The 20-17 win was even better than the game that preceded it, making for as memorable a day of football as the playoffs have ever seen.
Can the Super Bowl be any better?
It just might. This isn't the first time we've seen the Patriots and the Giants square off in a Super Bowl and the last time was one of the better editions of the game in history. You probably recall the particulars, but you're going to hear a lot more about them in the two weeks to come so we'll kick things off with a short primer.
The Pats were going for an undefeated season, their offense was being compared to the best of all time and the Giants were riding a hot streak that took them from total underdogs to the Super Bowl. The reason they made it to the big stage was their defense, a unit that harassed every quarterback it met, and set up Eli Manning to play big in the biggest moments of each game. The defense made Tom Brady's life miserable, but the Pats were still in position to win when Manning found David Tyree for a catch deep down the field that Tyree made by pinning the ball to his helmet. Eli found Plaxico Burress a few plays later and that was that.
It's a different year, but things are looking fairly similar. The Patriots have a high-octane offense, although it is probably a bit troubling to Bill Belichick that the Ravens were able to slow them down on Sunday. The Giants defense is performing at a very high level after struggling for most of the season and they have the kind of pass rush that can make anyone uncomfortable.
But they also have a very different Manning. He didn't play all that well for most of Sunday, but he made enough plays to put his team in position to take advantage of Williams' terrible mistakes. For the entire season, Manning has been nearly flawless and he carried the Giants to the point that the defense finally woke up and put them in position to make it to Indianapolis. He's clearly elite and a second Super Bowl ring would put him among the greatest in history.
Brady will have something to say about that, of course, and a fourth ring for the Patriots quarterback would add to his argument for greatest ever status. Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana are the only other quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls and Brady's career numbers stand up well with them and any other contender for the top of the list.
There are other storylines, of course. Bill Belichick vs. Tom Coughlin is a dream coaching matchup and you've got the breakout seasons of Rob Gronkowski and Victor Cruz coming to a head. Can the Patriots defense hold up against the Giants receivers? Can the Giants pass rush get to Brady before he makes big plays down the field? Does lightning strike twice?
We'll leave you with one last note. In the regular season preceding Super Bowl 42, the Giants lost 38-35 to the Patriots on their home field. That tight loss was seen as a springboard to their eventual title.
This regular season, the Patriots lost 24-20 to the Giants in Foxborough. Based on history, that sets them up well for Super Bowl Sunday and it sets us up for another great day of football.