The stage is set for another classic duel of Brady vs. Manning… Eli Manning. If anyone asked me who I thought would come out on top of this match-up at mid-season it’s likely that I would’ve punched them in the head, and never spoken to them again for fear of associating myself with such a astonishing imbecile. However, it’s not mid-season anymore and going into the final game of the year these two teams aren’t nearly the same as they were then. Their leaders under center have transformed dramatically over the past few weeks, and it has changed the face of the Super Bowl dramatically as well. We might have a game on our hands after all.Early on in the year Tom Brady looked completely unstoppable. He was throwing touchdown passes at a rate we’d never seen and it seemed like he would murder the single season touchdown record like he did Drew Bledsoe’s career. While he did beat the record (only by 1, rather than 15 as some suggested he might), Brady’s production slowed late in the year and now he is coming off the worst playoff performance of his life. To top it all off he was spotted in Manhattan yesterday wearing a walking cast that inspired the always classy New York Post to run the front page headline “Girly man limps home” (I can’t wait until my blog gets some attention so I can become a real journalist too!).
Now this begs the question, can an injured Tom Brady coming off a 3 pick performance give the Pats what they need to complete the perfect season? Of course it also begs the question, isn’t it a little odd for the opposing QB to show up in New York hobbling like Tiny Tim for all of the media to see? This has Belichick written all over it… I can see the Post cover page now: “Castgate ’08!”
Healthy or not though, one thing is clear; Brady and the New England offense haven’t had things so easy of late. In the last few weeks of the year it seemed opponents began to figure out how to slow their unfathomable pass attack. Someone clued in on their secret, stole Tom Brady’s Game Genie and forced him to play like the rest of us. Since then the Patriots margins of victory were cut back down to earthly levels and, including in the playoffs, they have actually been forced to grind out some victories. Of course, it hasn’t hurt them yet. When the worst criticism an entire national media has for your team is “their wins no longer look like George Foreman vs. Rosey Perez,” things could be worse. But with the Pats suddenly looking like much less of a juggernaut, you have to wonder if their opponent might now have a legitimate shot. Especially considering the upswing the other guys have enjoyed of late.
For once the biggest story of the playoffs is focused on a quarterback not named Brady or Favre or Manning… well at least not the Manning that anyone cared about. After an entire year of Eli-bashing writers and analysts everywhere are eating their words as they witness first hand the equivalent of Frank Stallone outdueling Sly at the box office. I too was an unrelenting cynic when it came to young Eli, but I am a man who can admit when he is wrong. So I have drafted a formal letter of apology and will mail it out immediately… care of Archie Manning. In hopes that will read it to his son for a final confidence booster as he tucks him into his race car bed the night before the big game.
But say what you will about him, closing his third consecutive turn as hero Eli has quieted his critics and self-assuredly led his team to the biggest stage in all of sports. Suddenly morphing into a confident and poised adversary for the Pats, Eli has thrown zero interceptions, shown zero panic, and thus far given them zero reason to believe he’ll do otherwise in 2 weeks.
The sudden maturation of Eli Manning has done wonders for the balance of the New York offense, and morphed them into a justifiable force. For the better part of the season the Giants were a run first team, mostly because Manning always seemed to be a pass to the other team first quarterback. However, in spite of all of the blown throws and media criticism his teammates and coaches remained faithful to their quarterback, and in the end it has paid off. Whether it was a case of the unwavering belief of others instilling him with self confidence, or getting kicked in the temple by a donkey he tried to milk, something triggered a shake up in Eli Manning’s head and he seems like a whole new man on the field. Now considering all of this began in the Giants’ week 17 battle with Brady and New England, the Pats have to be at least a little worried that a continually improving Eli Manning and Big Blue could be the ones to knock them off their high horse in the final leg of the race.
The bottom line here is this, it’s not mid-season anymore. The public pasting of whatever unfortunate bunch of slobs would face the almighty Patriots in February is no longer a foregone conclusion. We have the country’s two most dominant sports markets facing off in the biggest game of the year. We have a classic case of David vs. Goliath. And we have a rematch of one of the best games this year had to offer. Not to mention I think we all remember what happened the last time the New York Giants faced the league’s most prolific offense in a Super Bowl.
We might just have a game on our hands after all.