Commentary

To counter lack of Super Bowl experience, the Giants boast focus

The Patriots have more than 10 times the Super Bowl-playing experience of the Giants. But New York seems to have the focus to make this rematch a rival to their Dec. 29 near-upset of the Pats.

Originally Published: January 22, 2008
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

There certainly are many reasons to question the New York Giants' chances of upsetting the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Focus, however, should not be anywhere on that list.

Even though the Giants have just two players remaining from their last trip to the Super Bowl -- wide receiver Amani Toomer and defensive end Michael Strahan were on that team that lost to the Baltimore Ravens during the 2000 season -- they already are thinking about how to best manage the week.

"I got caught up in all the distractions back in 2000," said Toomer, referring to the parties, press and people begging for tickets and time. "And that's why I'm going to be telling our younger guys to be careful about it. The only thing that matters is what you do in that game on Sunday. And we can't lose sight of that."

It's actually hard to see the Giants' losing sight of anything these days. No team has been more dialed in than the Giants over the last three weeks -- and yes, that includes the same undefeated Patriots team that is chasing a perfect record. After all, New England won two playoff games at home, including Sunday's win over San Diego in the AFC Championship Game.

[+] EnlargeAmani Toomer and Michael Strahan
AP Photo/Craig RuttleAmani Toomer (left) and Michael Strahan have helped their team focus for the three playoff games spent away from Giants Stadium.

The Giants, on the other hand, have won three straight playoff games on the road. You don't do that unless your head is in the right place.

The Giants have beaten the odds every weekend, whether it was slaying a Dallas team that had beaten them twice during the regular season or going into Green Bay, Wis., Sunday to trounce the Packers in an NFC Championship Game played in sub-zero weather. Now that they're facing the same Patriots team that beat them in the regular-season finale, the odds favor New York's bringing that same single-minded mentality to Arizona for a week when the Giants will be hearing all about the greatness of their opponent.

"All I can say is that we weren't scared of them the first time we played them," Toomer said. "And they knew that when that game was over."

That first Patriots-Giants game obviously has become the genesis of everything that has gone right for New York over the last three weeks. And it wasn't just the way the Giants played in that loss that fueled this postseason run. It was the way they prepared for that game that proved to be just as critical.

From the moment Giants head coach Tom Coughlin opened that week of practice with a matter-of-fact proclamation -- "We're going after them," he said during a team meeting that week -- the Giants adopted a sense of purpose that they haven't lost yet.

So far, that's been the major difference in New York. The Giants now approach every game with the same hunger and determination that New England has displayed all season.

"That entire week was huge for us," said Giants safety Gibril Wilson. "We were really focused and we knew we had a chance to win that game. And once it was over, we realized that we had to keep that same mind-set in the playoffs. If we approached every practice, meeting and game with the same intensity we had that week, we knew we could get to this point."

Of course, now the Giants have to deal with a challenge that will be infinitely greater than the one New England offered back on Dec. 29. The Patriots haven't lost a Super Bowl in the three times they've reached that game under coach Bill Belichick. They also have strength in numbers. While Toomer and Strahan represent all of the Giants' Super Bowl experience, the Patriots boast 21 players who have played on a team that has advanced to that game. That's a hell of an advantage in a contest of this magnitude.

But let's also be candid here: The Patriots haven't been winning in the same impressive fashion that had been their trademark earlier this season.

They literally labored to beat the banged-up Chargers and they definitely look more like a team that is feeling the weight of the history they're chasing. Meanwhile, the Giants have grown more comfortable with their underdog status each week. Every time they've played this postseason, they've had a confidence and a certainty in their body language that used to be quite apparent in the Patriots.

This is why the Giants have become so intriguing, even with a spread that opened with New England listed as a 13-point favorite. The best thing that happened to New York this year is that it had a great opportunity to see what it takes to beat the best team in the league. It doesn't come down to good breaks or spectacular plays. It really amounts to attitude and execution, which are the two qualities that New England has displayed every week of this season.

So now that the Giants understand that as well, this Super Bowl officially has a chance to be an exciting contest. That's because the first time these two teams met, the Patriots were the ones who had everything to play for while the Giants had nothing to lose. But one week of practice and one closely fought game in late December has changed the Giants for good.

In other words, the Patriots should be bracing for a vastly different opponent when these two teams meet again.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.