After running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored the New England Patriots’ first touchdown in the American Football Conference championship game on Sunday, during his celebration he pointed to the black patch, which all his teammates have worn the whole season: “MHK.” The late Myra Kraft, the beloved wife of Pats owner Bob Kraft who died shortly before the season (and whom contributing editor Joan Nathan fondly remembered on The Scroll), has turned into something like a patron saint for a franchise that, despite the 13-3 record and top seed, made its way to its fifth Super Bowl in 11 seasons only after being served the Denver Broncos on a platter last weekend and, yesterday, barely making their way past the Baltimore Ravens, who, offensively challenged as they are, failed to push the game at New England’s home field into overtime only after their kicker missed a 31-yard chip shot at the end of regulation for the 23-20 loss.
The second game, for the National Football Conference championship, was even better and made you feel even worse: better, because it was a true defensive battle, in the rain, at historic Candlestick Park; worse, because the San Francisco 49ers, last year a 6-10 team, had made for a wonderful story by building themselves up to 13-3 and a first-round bye with defensive grit, stellar special teams, and only 10 turnovers in 16 games, only to lose this game because of … two turnovers in the kicking game (committed, incidentally, by the same player, a young wide receiver filling in for normal return man Ted Ginn, who was out with an injury). Just a heartbreaking loss. And the New York Giants’ 20-17 overtime victory means that, for the second year in a row, the NFC will be represented in the big game by its 9-7 sixth seed who got hot.
Yes, the big game: The Super Bowl is fewer than two weeks away in Indianapolis. It is, I won’t be the last to point out, a rematch of four years ago, when the Giants (then the fifth rather than sixth seed) upset the 18-0 Pats. There are plenty more story-lines if you want them: Pats coach Bill Belichick again going up against his old team, the Giants; the Pats playing in Indianapolis, site of their normal archrival Colts; Giants quarterback Eli Manning looking to best his older, better brother Peyton’s one Super Bowl ring with a second of his own on Peyton’s home turf. The betting lines opened with the Pats favored by three. Really? The Giants just won three games on the road—in one of them, they blew out the 15-1 Green Bay Packers—and have exactly the sort of defense (able to create a substantial pass rush without blitzing) suited to taking down New England’s aerial attack. Not that it’s been much of an aerial attack: QB Tom Brady threw one more interception than touchdown yesterday, and for all we know he lost his best target, tight end Rob Gronkowski, injured late yesterday (by the same safety who ended Brady’s 2008 season with a shot to the knees). This Pats team is worse than the one four years ago in most ways; this Giants team has a superior passing game and, possibly, nearly as stout a defense. The indoor turf will favor the Giants’ pass rush and speedy receivers. And the Giants even beat the Pats earlier this year. I don’t expect a blowout, but if there is one, I expect the Giants to come out on top.
Oh, and yes. At the beginning of this season, Tablet Magazine selected three teams. One, to replace the disgraced Washington Redskins, was the Chicago Bears. The other two were our carryovers from last year: the Pats and the Giants. Stay tuned to find out who Tablet’s pick will be.
Our playoff record: 5-0