And so it begins, the tedious slog that has become the fortnight between the end of the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. The good news: the Patriots are one of the two teams remaining, their fifth trip to the finals this century. The bad news: we're going to be inundated with every conceivable storyline starting with the most obvious: New England will finally be able to avenge their Super Bowl XLII loss to the then-upstart Giants.
But four years have passed and these are two completely different teams. The Patriots have just five players from the 2007 squad, and only one defender (Vince Wilfork). The Giants, meanwhile, have 16 players and quarterback Eli Manning is playing the best football of his career.
And while Bill Belichick is a master motivator, nobody on the Patriots is thinking about what happened in Arizona in February 2008. Mostly because it still stings.
“I still can’t watch highlights of that game,” quarterback Tom Brady said on WEEI’s “Dennis & Callahan” Monday (via the Boston Herald). “I think that’s just the way it is. You get to the end, and we had a great opportunity there and really squandered it because we didn’t play our very best.”
Owner Robert Kraft echoed similar sentiments:
“I’ve never been able to watch it,” Kraft said. “I do remember the end of the game, a ball going through our cornerback’s (Samuel) hands that if he had caught that ball and it hadn’t gone through his hands, we would have been able to take a knee and we would have won the game. And, you know, that Eli doing a great job escaping from that pile of guys that we had on him, and whether the whistle blows, and the great catch and all these things."
“In the end, there are a lot of little things. That was a great game, that was a great team and we’re looking forward to having the privilege of going to Indianapolis.”
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who was part of the '07 team that fell one game short of perfection, put everything in perspective.
“It’s completely different people,” he said according to the Herald. “A lot of those guys on our team and their team weren’t part of that game, so there’s no blood for them. We don’t care who we play, we just want to win.”
Back in the present, Pats' wideout Matthew Slater provided a glimpse of Belchick's talking points this week.
“Coach told us this would be a different ballgame all together,” he said via ESPN.com's Jackie Macmullen. “He said the Giants only have eight of their guys left from that game, and we have only five guys.”
The numbers may be slightly off but it doesn't change the underlying point: Belichick lives in the present. Not the past, not the future, but the here and now. To quote Gostowkski: "It was what it was."