After sliding through their respective conference championship weekends, the New York Giants and the New England Patriots are set up for a rematch that almost everyone can relish.
In the AFC, things looked all set to go to overtime. Joe Flacco had put together another one of his good games, rallying his team down the field, putting them in position to score, maybe even for the win. When wide receiver Lee Evans was stripped of a just-barely-missed touchdown, things still appeared okay. The Ravens would be kicking a 32 yard field goal in order to tie the game and head to the new bizarro-rules overtime. Practically a chip shot, right? Kicker Billy Cundiff agrees, in principle, but veered wide on the actual kick. The Patriots celebrated on the sidelines, while the Ravens looked on in disbelief.
The Giants, on the other hand, actually had to take the NFC Championship game to overtime against the San Francisco 49ers. After trading equal shots, the 49ers got the ball back for their second try to match the Ravens. It felt right. It felt equal. But it wasn't meant to be. 49ers wide receiver Kyle Williams was on the return team, and grazed the punt with his knee. The Giants may or may not have seen that, but Devin Thomas grabbed the ball and ran like he was certain of himself. After reviewing the play, it was ruled a fumble, the Giants gained possession and it was all but over. Lawrence Tynes kicked the game-winning field goal.
So, with the match-up set, and the break of the Pro Bowl in between, we have approximately two weeks of media to look forward to, where we'll all recap the same familiar facts: the last time these two teams met in the Super Bowl was four years ago. Those were the most infamous of the famous Patriots teams, the ones that went undefeated all the way through the season and the post-season. Until the big game. They lost to the Giants in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. The Patriots appear to have lost some of their mojo since that game, not making the post-season at all in the immediate aftermath and getting bumped in the wild card game the year following that.
The Giants had a respectable follow-up to their Super Bowl win, at least in comparison, by making the playoffs in 2008, but spent the last two years on the outside looking in. The Manning haters crowed over Eli's failures and were only emboldened by this year's shocking (and devastating, at least for Colts fans) news about big brother Peyton. Now, little brother Manning will play in his big brother's town, Indianapolis, for all the marbles.
The rematch angle is, of course, the most entertaining. Certainly, Brady, Belichick and the rest of the Patriots have to be fuming for revenge. But Eli Manning and his Giants have progressed since shocking the oddsmakers, along with the majority of the nation. There's plenty to prove on their side as well. The big brother/little brother angle deserves its moment in the sun, if only for the baffling semi-reveal that Peyton has only a single Super Bowl win. The Manning brothers, tied in ultimate victories, could find themselves a new pecking order after February 5. Tom Brady, of course, in his usual superhuman way, merely looks to solidify his reputation as one of the greatest to play the game. Certainly, none of that is too much pressure for either of these guys, or their teams.