Upon Further Review: The Giants and Patriots in the Regular Season

What can we learn from the regular season matchup?

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We've already established that there's no real link between Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI.

What about the regular season meeting between these two teams? The Giants beat the Patriots 24-20 on a last minute touchdown pass to Jake Ballard. A review of what went down that day offers plenty of insight into what might happen this weekend.

These aren't quite the same two teams that played in Foxborough. The Giants played that game without running back Ahmad Bradshaw, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and center David Baas, all of whom are expected to play major roles in the Super Bowl.

On the other side of the field, the story is the players that aren't there. Safety Josh Barrett's season ended in Week Nine, the Patriots later lost defensive end Andre Carter to injury and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and cornerback Philip Adams are no longer with the team. 

The Patriots defense wasn't great this season, but the Giants caught them at a moment when they were still trying to figure out just what they had.

Because of those differences, it is hard to read much into the performance of the Giants offense against the Patriots defense. Eli Manning didn't have one of his best games of the season, but he caught fire late. 

He was helped by a pair of long pass interference penalties and the strange choice by the Patriots to play special teamers Tracy White and Sergio Brown on defense on the final drive. Manning beat each one of them on the way to Ballard's game-winning score.

The biggest takeaway from that matchup is probably the fact that the Patriots couldn't generate any pass rush whatsoever against Manning. Given time to throw, especially with Nicks in the lineup, Manning will eventually make plays against any defense. The Giants offensive line remains a weakness, but only if the Pats can make them pay more than they did in Week Nine.

We can read more into the way the Giants defense handled Tom Brady that day because it is similar to what we've seen from the unit over the last five games. They pressured him on almost every passing down and forced him to hurry almost every pass he threw over the first three quarters. Brady caught fire late, but it wasn't enough to overcome an even hotter Manning.

It was as bad a game as Brady has ever played to that point, and he wasn't helped by the Patriots' scheme. The team went with heavy protection often and rarely used the hurry-up, which has been their bread-and-butter in the 10 straight wins that followed the loss to the Giants.

Part of the reason for that might have been their attempt to use Chad Ochocinco (five targets) and the decision to abandon the running game, which could have kept the Giants from rushing with abandon.

You would expect all of those things to change, even if Rob Gronkowski is less than 100 percent. Ochocinco won't play much, the Pats have been more committed to the run and the offense has done a good job of dictating the pace of games.

The Patriots' entire offensive gameplan was one that reeked of being scared of the Giants defense. They were taken out of their game and the result wasn't a good one for them. They'll still need to shut down Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, no easy task, and the Giants' three safety did well against the dangerous Pats tight ends in the regular season.

What should be heartening to the Patriots is that Brady, who wound up with three turnovers, can't play any worse than he did that week, and the defense was a shell of what it is now. Despite that, they still had a very good chance to win the game.

For the Giants, they can point to their victory as well as the fact that they left a lot of points on the board before Manning got rolling down the stretch. Their defense was good that week, but it is playing at an even higher level now and they know that Brady can be thrown off his game with a strong, sustained pass rush.

Playing once during the regular season means that both teams will have lots of tape to watch. Adjustments will be key on both sides, but a review of Week Nine leaves us feeling pretty sure that Sunday's game will come down to another exciting fourth quarter.

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