Key Super Bowl XLVI questions
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On what he considered a bad day in terms of his performance, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady got his wish.
Super Bowl XLVI will give Brady a chance to rectify his only Super Bowl loss, the 2008 edition in which Eli Manning bested Brady with a game-winning fourth-quarter touchdown drive that featured numerous big or clutch plays. It was in that game the New York Giants took the fear factor away from the three-time Super Bowl champs.
The Giants tipped off to the rest of the world that the Patriots can be beaten. The Giants slowed New England's offensive weapons with man-to-man coverage. They got pressure around the feet of Brady to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. The Giants were able to crack holes in the Patriots' defense.
What followed was a three-year run in which the Patriots failed to win a playoff game. Though the Pats breezed through a 2011 schedule in which they didn't beat a team with a winning record until the AFC Championship Game, they will go to Indianapolis knowing how difficult it is to win playoff games and Super Bowls, something they were starting to take for granted.
"It's hard to win these games,'' Brady said. "It's hard to win games in the NFL because every team is very talented. We did enough here the last 10 weeks to win these games. I'm sure this next game is going to come down to the end and hopefully we have enough plays.''
What's great about this Super Bowl is both teams might be considered the hottest going to Indianapolis. Despite a 9-7 season, the Giants got healthier during the playoffs and played their most complete football. The Pats enter with a 10-game winning streak and the chance to be favorites in the Super Bowl -- again.
But as the Giants proved four years ago, being the favorites doesn't mean much when the game starts. It's how you finish that counts.
1. What is the history between these franchises? Including the Super Bowl, the Patriots lead the series 5-4, but the Giants have won the past two games. They shocked the world by beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, but they also won the regular-season game this season -- 24-20 in New England.
That game was classic Brady-Manning, almost like a Peyton Manning-Tom Brady game. The game was scoreless at the half. The Giants led 10-3 after three quarters. Then each quarterback exchanged scoring drives. Brady threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez to tie the game and led a field goal drive to take a 13-10 lead. Manning completed an 83-yard drive with 3:03 remaining by hitting Mario Manningham with a touchdown pass to give the Giants a 17-13 lead. Brady needed 90 seconds to drive 64 yards and hit Rob Gronkowski with a 14-yard touchdown pass to put the Pats ahead. With 1:36 left, Manning executed an 80-yard, eight play drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake Ballard to win the game with 15 seconds left.
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Though he's healthy, the deactivation of Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco is a sign he's not going to be back next season. Ochocinco was on the field for only one play in the divisional round and isn't in the mix in the team's three-receiver offense. He caught 15 passes for 276 yards in the regular season. He's scheduled to make $3 million in the second year of a three-year deal. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis cleared the air on his future. He plans to play next year. Despite being 36, Lewis, who loves the game, said he has no plans of retiring. The contract of Cam Cameron, the Ravens' offensive coordinator, ran out Sunday. There is a good chance he won't be renewed. Despite helping to groom QB Joe Flacco, the Ravens still have problems on offense juggling the run and the pass. The Dolphins, according to sources, had interest in going after Oregon coach Chip Kelly, but nothing really worked out. If the Bucs hire Kelly, that means the Dolphins have lost out on Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher and Kelly over the past two years. They did hire Joe Philbin from the Green Bay Packers. Not having Ted Ginn Jr. because of a knee injury really hurt the 49ers, who had two costly fumbles on returns.
John Clayton's game balls
• Offense: Victor Cruz, the league's most dangerous slot receiver, caught 10 passes for 142 yards in the Giants' 20-17 overtime victory over the 49ers. Cruz was targeted 17 times. His longest reception was 36 yards.
• Defense: Vince Wilfork, the only defensive player on the Patriots with a Super Bowl ring, led the way in a 23-20 victory over the Ravens. He had a sack, three additional tackles behind the line of scrimmage and a hit on quarterback Joe Flacco.
• Special teams: Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski outdueled Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff by going 3-for-3 with field goals of 29, 35 and 24 yards in the Patriots' victory over Baltimore. He also had touchbacks on five of his six kickoffs, pinning the Ravens back at their 20-yard line most of the afternoon. The Ravens had only one return for 20 yards.
Championship Sunday rundown
• N.Y. Giants 20, San Francisco 17 (OT)
Sure, Kyle Williams' two muffed punts loomed large, but so did the 49ers' third-down futility (1-for-13). It's easy to forget that this Giants team was once 7-7 and coach Tom Coughlin's job was in jeopardy.