Yes, the New York Giants have a chance.
The Giants, who upset the Green Bay Packers 23-20 in overtime for the NFC championship Sunday, opened as two-touchdown dogs in the Super Bowl, where they'll try again to spoil the undefeated season of the New England Patriots. They gave the Pats a hell of a game on the last day of the season in New Jersey, finally falling 38-35. Though nothing tangible was on the line that night, it may have been the most exciting game of the year.
The Pats made it 18 straight wins with a tense 21-12 home win over the San Diego Chargers -- two-touchdown dogs -- in the AFC Championship Game Sunday.
Both conference championship games were played in blistering cold, the NFC game the third coldest championship game in league history. The two coldest have names: the Ice Bowl and the Freezer Bowl. If Sunday's game at Lambeau Field acquires a nickname, it won't be invented here. My suggestion: The Here, You Take It Bowl. Both teams did everything they could to hand the win over.
There were bad penalties, blown kick coverages, missed field goals and, in the end, two interceptions and more bad passes by Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre.
But that name doesn't really swing, and anyway it would be a terrible way to remember what also may have been the most exciting game of the year. The weather, the temperature hanging around just below zero Fahrenheit and the wind chill 20 or so degrees below that, had no obvious effect. Nothing happened that might not happen in the climate-controlled calm of University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., in two weeks. There were no weather plays.
But it must have had an effect. Who knows which throws would have been more accurate, which snaps would have been better, which tackles would have been surer. As the game wore on, neither team was able to cover kickoffs with anything like NFL efficiency. Might that most pain-inducing of duties have been handled with more aplomb with the thermometer resting comfortably at 72?
What got the Giants to Arizona will give them a chance there: The defensive front. That's another thing that may have been hindered by the chill. Speedy pass rushers give up more on a frozen field than solid blockers. But it did enough.
Favre's increasingly erratic play after halftime, culminating in two big interceptions, the latter setting up the Giants' winning score in overtime, was caused by the Giants pass rush. It was the same story with Tony Romo a week before in Dallas. The Giants also took away Green Bay's running game. A week ago Ryan Grant ran wild for 201 yards on 27 carries, a 7.4-yard average. The Giants held him to 29 yards on 13 carries, 2.2 per try. And nobody else even tried.
The Giants sacked Favre exactly zero times, but their pressure up the middle never let him get into a rhythm, and it also disrupted the run. The Giants can take encouragement from the Chargers pass rush, which did a similar job on Tom Brady.
The Patriots quarterback was very nearly perfect in New England's first playoff win, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he looked downright human against San Diego, taking two sacks and throwing three picks, though one of those was another ball that bounced off a receiver, something that happened twice in the Jags game.
It may have just been one of those days for Brady. Hey, we all have days when we're only good, not superb. But the Chargers brought heat up the middle and forced Brady to move side to side to get free. His strength, and I'd go so far as to call it a genius, is staying in the pocket, gliding a step here and there, staying tantalizingly out of the grasp of pass rushers. If the Giants can get some pressure on Brady up the middle on Feb. 3, that might change things.
They might be 10-point underdogs.
That's the problem. The Chargers made life miserable for Brady, and the Patriots still won by two scores. Bringing pressure up the middle sounds nice, but the Patriots offensive line is about as good as it gets. And if Brady can get a pass away, his receivers are better than Favre's.
Take away Randy Moss, as the Chargers did, and Brady will throw it to Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney and, as he did for eight completions Sunday, Kevin Faulk. And don't forget he can also hand off to Laurence Maroney, who rumbled for 122 yards on 25 carries against San Diego.
The Giants are playing terrific football right now. They've just won three straight road playoff games, and they haven't lost away from home since Week 1, when they lost in Dallas. Eli Manning is playing like a No. 1 draft choice, taking advantage of having the huge Plaxico Burress -- 11 catches Sunday -- on his side and not making the kinds of mistakes that had been threatening to become a hallmark. The defensive front is playing well enough that the banged-up and secondary hasn't been exposed.
And the Patriots, who of course are playing the way nobody's ever played before, to the tune of 18-0, one win better than the winningest winners ever, seem to be scraping by lately. The team that was abusing opponents earlier in the season hasn't played a dominant game since the Dec. 9 win over Pittsburgh. They followed that with two nonrouts at home over the Jets and Miami Dolphins, terrible teams, then squeaked past the Giants on the road before winning their two tough playoff games.
Those twin trend lines, plus the fact that three of the last four NFL games played have resulted in upsets, are what we're all going to be thinking about over the next 12 days as we try to convince ourselves that the Giants don't just have a chance, they have a good chance.
They don't. But they do have a chance.
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