Commentary

Learning from history could help the Giants make history

What works against the Patriots? There's nothing foolproof. But here are some things the Giants should not do, Seth Wickersham writes.

Originally Published: January 26, 2008
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN.com

Tom Coughlin and Bill BelichickChris McGrath/Getty ImagesFor their rematch in the Super Bowl, Giants coach Tom Coughlin (left) should learn a trick Patriots counterpart Bill Belichick (right) used as a Giants' assistant in a previous championship game.

OK, Giants, listen up. We here at Upsetters Inc. want to bring your goals to reality. And we know what you want on Super Sunday: To follow the 1990 Giants, 1997 Broncos and 2001 Patriots as underdogs-turned-champs. Well, lucky for you, we've already got a Dos and Don'ts blueprint to victory.

Well, not quite. Actually, for the first time since 1972, there are no Dos.

See, that's the problem with playing the 18-0 Patriots. You can't name any surefire keys to beating them because no one has. But we do know what you shouldn't do. So just make sure a check is by each one of the following and, come Feb. 3, you might be pulling confetti from your hair.

Don't

[+] EnlargeIgor Olshansky
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesThe Chargers' Igor Olshansky went into the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots feeling confident -- too confident.
say anything stupid. Steelers safety Anthony Smith and Chargers defensive end Igor Olshansky are examples 1 and 1A of what happens when you pop off and slight the Patriots before kickoff. Look, we know it's tempting to speak your mind, maybe even pull a Joe Willie, especially with all the cameras around. But keep stroking the Patriots, tough as it may be. The best way to handle being two-touchdown underdogs is to ride with it. Memorize these:

"We are facing the best coach, quarterback, and team in NFL history. We just hope it's close."

"Tom Brady doesn't need two feet to beat us."

"I don't blame the oddsmakers. I would have made the spread 17."

See, Giants, this is exactly what the Broncos did against the Packers. They put the spotlight on them all week and didn't give Mike Holmgren any material. Ditto with the 2001 Patriots.

Don't

assume that the Patriots will underprepare. New England knows every in-game scenario because it has practiced each one. You know that punt against the Chargers that Kelley Washington downed inside the 5-yard line? "We've practiced it probably 100 times," he says. Before the San Diego game, Washington and punter Chris Hanson stayed after practice to work on that exact drill. Remember, New York: The Pats won't hand you anything. You have to earn it.

Don't

expect the Patriots to break. This is as tight a team as the NFL has ever seen. After each practice, Brady brings everyone together and leads a "Super Bowl" chant on the count of three. Usually, this stuff is for high school and college. Most NFL teams don't end practice with a cheer. But the Patriots do. No wonder Bill Belichick says they "love" one another. If you expect them to turn on each other if the going gets bad, you're mistaken.

Don't

forget the Giants-Bills Super Bowl. In 1991, the lunch-pail Giants faced the high-flying, fancy Bills. The Giants' defensive game plan -- hatched by Belichick, of course -- was to allow Thurman Thomas to gain 100-plus yards. The logic was this: Knowing that the Giants would struggle against the pass, Belichick told his team to let the Bills gain yardage, luring them into believing they truly controlled the line of scrimmage. Belichick figured it would shorten the game and keep the ball out of Jim Kelly's hands. Then, on third-and-short, he believed the Giants could rise up and stuff the Bills.

Well, that scheme worked. Barely.

Of course it's risky, but the Giants might do well to use Belichick's ideas against his Patriots. Think about it: Would you rather have Laurence Maroney running or Brady passing? Give Maroney some yards. Just stiffen up on third down.

Don't

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesNote to Eli Manning (left): Remember to continue to embrace Plaxico Burress (right) as a huge part of your game plan on Super Bowl Sunday.
forget Terrell Davis. Before the Packers-Broncos Super Bowl, nobody thought the Broncos, with the lightest offensive line in the NFL, would be able to run on DT Gilbert Brown and the Packers. Guess what? They tried anyway, and Davis went around and through the Packers as if they were slalom poles and won the game's MVP honors. The point is to play to your strength. Stick with what got you here. Don't assume just because the Patriots have two weeks to prepare for you that they'll have every equation solved. That means making Plaxico Burress a huge part of the game plan, not assuming the Patriots will eliminate him.

Don't

give New England's receivers a clean release. Yeah, we saw what happened to Corey Webster in the NFC Championship when he tried to jam Donald Driver and whiffed: Driver caught a 90-yard touchdown. But it didn't cost you the game.

Don't get frightened by the big play. See how Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte' Stallworth, and Kevin Faulk -- especially Faulk -- do when they're punished.

That's what the 2001 Patriots did against the Rams, and Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt struggled until the fourth quarter, when it was too late. Rough up New England's pass-catchers a little. Their pain is your friend.

Don't

get conservative. You're not going to beat the Patriots with field goals. Just ask the Chargers. Don't forget the lessons of UC Berkeley professor David Romer: Field position is overrated. Going for it on fourth down isn't.

That should do it, Giants. Good luck. Oh, wait -- we thought of one Do.

Pray.

Seth Wickersham is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a columnist for ESPN.com.

Seth Wickersham

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs. Email him and follow him on Twitter at @sethwickersham.