EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 6, 2012

Two-Minute Drill: Giants 21, Patriots 17

Hector Longo

Big Shows

1. Brandon Spikes - His aggressive nature on defense is something the entire team has to learn again. Rip it, strip it, hit it, attack it. Eight solo tackles, on which the Giants gained 37 yards. I love the aggression. Just don't ask him to cover someone.

2. Mark Anderson - Had 1.5 sacks and disrupted Eli Manning most of the night.

3. Jerod Mayo - Eight solo tackles and a strip. A good night, not great, but good.

No Shows

1. Wes Welker - You have to make that catch in the fourth quarter drive for the kill. It's a tough one, but this franchise needed that catch.

2. Tom Brady - 6 of 15 for 64 yards with a sack and an interception in the fourth quarter. He basically tossed his third Super Bowl MVP away.

3. Sterling Moore - That slap at the football when you're beaten that saved your backside against Baltimore doesn't work against a professional receiver like Mario Manningham. Surrendered the 38-yard bomb that set up the game-winner.

Grading the Groups

Offense

Line (B-) ... An adequate job against a top-notch front four. Run game produced 4.4 yards a carry. Brady had time. He got hit when he held the ball too long.

Receivers (C) ... I love Deion Branch, but in this matchup he had to beat single coverage. It didn't happen enough. Had three catches for 45 yards. Please tell me the Chad Ochocinco experiment is now kaput.

Tight Ends (C) ... Rob Gronkowski's ankle injury was huge, helping limit him to only two catches. Aaron Hernandez had two drops, two more than a team can afford in a Super Bowl. These guys have been good for 15 catches a game. 10 for 103 wasn't enough.

Backs (C) ... Both David Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis had flashes, but faded late. This team must find some consistency at the position, be it one of these two or Shane Vereen or Stevan Ridley.

Quarterback (C) ... Again, I laud Tom Brady's courage. He was clearly banged up in this game. We all saw the vicious hit he took in the end zone late in the third. He wasn't right. But the pick intended for Gronkowski was one of the worst throws of his life. He had Gronk but was too late and paid the price.

Defense

Line (B-) ... The Giants ran for 4.4 yards a carry, but they did get to Eli Manning a few times. Vince Wilfork, Gerard Warren, Brandon Deaderick and Mark Anderson (1.5 sacks) all had big plays inside.

Linebackers (B-) ... Again, the impact by Brandon Spikes was encouraging. Rob Ninkovich had an excuse-me half-sack. Time to recalibrate the expectations on Jerod Mayo. He's not a Pro Bowl linebacker and won't be. He's a notch below a Roman Phifer, the definition of solid but not spectacular.

Secondary (C) ... Eli Manning threw for 296 yards. He was 30 of 40 overall and 10 of 14 in the fourth. So guys were open. The tackling was solid. Patrick Chung made one big hit.

Coaching (D) ... The Giants won most of the battles, and therefore took the war. The Pats were slow on their substitute packages and at times seemed confused. And down the stretch, Bill Belichick melted or at least slipped to above average.

Special Teams (C ) ... This team is in severe need of speed in the return game. Zoltan Mesko punted fine (41.0) and Stephen Gostkowski was fine, but there has to be more from the return game.

The turning point

Despite the many mistakes, the missed assignments, etc., the Pats could have locked this one away if Wes Welker catches Tom Brady's pass inside the 20 in the fourth quarter.

That drop opened the door, which Eli Manning and the Giants kicked in to steal a victory.

Why Belichick is better

He wasn't.

I have no problem with him letting his defense allow the Giants to score with a minute to go. In fact, I endorsed the move before the New Yorkers snapped the ball on 1st and goal from the 7.

If Bill Belichick is on top of his game, he makes that controversial call on first down.

He doesn't burn five seconds and a timeout contemplating things. And while we're at it, he doesn't make a stupid challenge at the 3:25 mark when Mario Manningham clearly had two feet down on the 38-yard catch.

We all saw this go down. Sorry, the coach dropped the ball.

Shame on us

Shame on the New England football media, who chose to ignore Bill Belichick's gaffe in the postgame interview session.

Talk about an embarrassment from the media.

They asked him to take "us" through the decision-making process.

When it was clear that nobody was going to come with the tough questions, I did.

I asked if he thought about letting them score on first down to save time and the timeout. He answered, "Yeah."

Thanks coach, but what changed between 1st and goal from the 7 and 2nd and goal from the 6?

Bottom line is, Belichick and his staff — so good for so long — needed time to make the biggest decision of the season. It was time they didn't have.

You don't think Tom Brady could have used that extra timeout when he found Aaron Hernandez down the middle for 11 yards at the Pats' 44?

Belichick has to be thinking steps ahead there.

As for the Manningham review, Belichick said, "it was close."

I read body language. The official who called him in was very confident. The first replay shown had him in bounds with the ball and both feet down.

Vegas got hurt

When Green Bay was alive, you could have bet the AFC team with 6 points in this game. But the Pack lost in the playoffs, and that number swung to the AFC as a 4-point choice.

Anyone who took the AFC +6 had the chance for a sweet middle betting the NFC +4. That cash cow came through. And you know some Las Vegas casinos took a pounding because of it.

5 quick thoughts

1. This team needs speed. Speed on offense. Speed on defense. Speed inside. Speed outside. Speed everywhere.

2. Losing this game, as Belichick said last night, "doesn't feel good."

3. Osi Umenyiora said it best: "They were calling the first one a fluke, what are they going to say now?"

4. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady still make the Pats the team to beat in the AFC next year.

5. I want to come home.