EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 5, 2012

Pats have too much at stake to come up short

Bill Burt

INDIANAPOLIS — I don't know if the score will be 21-20, 31-20 or 41-20. In fact, the score doesn't matter. What matters is that by about 10:30 p.m. tonight, the New England Patriots will be Super Bowl champs.

This is no disrespect to the New York Giants, who were disrespected four years ago in Glendale, Ariz.

Disrespected by Patriot fans, the media (myself included) and probably even the Patriots themselves. We didn't see that Mack Truck coming.

It was so deflating that the stunning loss will never go away.

This Patriots-Giants matchup is different. There are no surprises. The Giants beat the Packers, probably the best team in the NFL, in Green Bay, and then beat the 49ers, probably the toughest team in the NFL, in San Francisco.

Although the Pats are slightly favored (2.5 points), this is a toss-up. Both teams have warts — New England was 31st in yards allowed and the Giants were 27th — but both have playmakers, too.

Most of the Patriot playmakers are on offense. The Giants are more balanced.

This game isn't really about matchups, X's and O's or the no-huddle offense. It's about what's at stake.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have too much at stake. The repercussions are huge. It isn't often you get to flirt with the all-time best. They both did once and both flunked.

They are lucky to get a second shot. My guess is that these two will bring their "A" games to Lucas Oil Stadium tonight.

Brady's playoff reputation has taken a hit of late, including in the AFC Championship two weeks ago. After dismantling the mediocre Denver Broncos, Brady, who had an inordinate amount of time to throw the ball against a tough Ravens defense, was indecisive and average in the 23-20 win. To paraphrase Brady, "The defense saved my behind."

Belichick also could use a pick-me-up Super Bowl victory. His respect among those in the game is unparalleled. Outside of the game, it's not so hot.

He had another stellar season overcoming some of his poor personnel decisions on defense (hello Albert Haynesworth). Nonetheless, the embattled defense has been OK in the playoffs.

The guess here is that the Giants offense, at least for three quarters, will be held in check enough that Brady and the Pats will be in control.

As for the Giants, the key player is Eli Manning. If he is as sharp as he has been in the pivotal regular season finale and the three postseason games — 64 percent passing, 11 TDs, 1 interception — the Giants could win again.

But I wonder if Manning deserves the pedestal he has been placed on this week, next to Brady, one of the best and most consistent performers in NFL history.

Since that incredible Super Bowl four years ago, the Giants' record is 39-25 while the Patriots' record has been 48-16.

In other words, Belichick and Brady's body of work is incomparable.

If this game were played in November, one a neutral field, it would be a coin toss.

With too much on the line, I'm betting on Belichick and Brady.

Enjoy the game. E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.