by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Let's just call it kind of eerie.

Back in early December, we first began to note some possible parallels between this season's New York Giants and the 2007 version that won the Super Bowl four years ago in Glendale, Arizona.

But we couldn't have imagined how closely this season's G-Men would follow the late-season script of their predecessors from Super Bowl XLII. Right down to beating Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the favored Patriots in the Super Bowl. Right down to a last-minute, long TD drive led by Eli Manning. Right down to a circus long-ball catch on the final scoring march by one of Eli's wideouts (this year Mario Manningham; four years ago David Tyree).

Even the stretch drive of the regular season, and the early rounds of the playoffs, played out remarkably similar to four years ago for the G-Men. That early December loss to a then-unbeaten Green Bay, in which New York performed heroically, came by the same 38-35 scoreline the Giants lost to another then-unbeaten team, the Patriots, at the very end of the 2007 regular. Although the schedule sequence of those 38-35 losses (the loss to New England four years ago came in the final regular-season game, and was the last installment of the Patriots' 16-0 regular season) were not exactly the same, the similarities were hard to ignore, as each defeat seemed to galvanize the G-Men.

This year's Giants still had lots of work to do in the regular season after that December 4 loss to the Packers, but, like four years ago, began to catch fire down the stretch. Facing a must-win situation at Dallas the following week, the G-Men rallied for a pulsating 37-34 win. As they also did late in the 2007 season, the Giants picked a home game against Washington to subsequently stub their toes in a game without "must win" attached to it, but still controlled their playoff destiny if they could win their final two games against the Jets and Cowboys, which they did to claim a playoff berth as well as the NFC East crown.

Like four years ago, the Giants hooked an NFC South team in the wild card round (this season Atlanta, four years ago Tampa Bay), and, though unlike 2007, were able to host the playoff opener, still prevailing impressively, 24-2. Sent on the road in the next round for a rematch from the regular-season against the NFC's top seed, the Giants throttled the Packers, winning away from home in the division round much as they did against top-seeded Dallas four years ago. Then, on the road again as an underdog in the NFC title game, this season's Giants won in overtime at San Francisco thanks to a Lawrence Tynes field goal, just as the 2007 Giants had won the NFC title game in overtime at Green Bay, the winning points also scored by...you guessed it, PK Lawrence Tynes.

And then came the Super Bowl against the Patriots, with the teams even decked out in the same uniforms as four years ago, and in another domed stadium to boot, the only difference being this one at Indianapolis, and four years ago at Glendale (Phoenix). And then came the similarities between XLVI and XLII, both with grandstand finishes.

Not to mention that, like 2007, the Giants provided few hints that they were ready for something special until the later stages of the regular season. Or that, like 2007, HC Tom Coughlin's job was rumored to be in jeopardy at various times of the regular season. Or that news cycles this year were dominated by presidential primaries and caucuses just as they were four years ago when the Patriots and Giants got together in February 2008.

Maybe we're simply living in a parallel universe to four years ago after all?

Whatever. We still found it a bit curious that this year's Super Bowl didn't seem to quite have the same buzz of four years ago, an opinion shared by many observers. That could have partly been due to the fact the Patriots weren't 18-0 entering this year's "Supe" as they were in SB XLII and threatening gridiron immortality. Perhaps it was also partly due to the rematch factor within recent memory; we'd already seen a Giants-Patriots Super Bowl. Moreover, the storylines involving Belichick and Brady, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Coughlin and Eli, hold no more mysteries for the gridiron public. The Belichick act, in particular, is old news by now. And Brady is even less intriguing these days now that he's settled down and become a family man with ex-supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen.

The spotlight was also partially distracted away from the Patriots and Giants by the Peyton Manning storyline with the Colts (more on that in a moment), further illuminated by the fact that this year's Super Bowl was being played in Indianapolis.

The game had a somewhat similar feel to XLII, with a somewhat cautious bent both ways in the early going. Although there was a bit more going on in the first thirty minutes of Sunday's game than four years ago, complete with the first opening-score safety (on Brady's intentional grounding from the end zone on a downfield pass, drawing a rare flag, on the Pats' first play of the game) in a Super Bowl since SB IX between the Steelers and Vikings thirty-seven years ago, a game in which Pittsburgh actually led by the 2-0 scoreline at halftime. The G-men certainly had the better of it in the early going, bolting to a 9-0 lead before the Patriots clawed their way back into the game. Although we thought a key development was a questionable holding call on Giants LG Kevin Boothe on 3rd-and-one at the Patriots 46, denying New York a first down on a late second-quarter drive that seemed destined to produce points when the G-Men led by a 9-3 count. Manning was incomplete on his next pass downfield and the G-Men were forced to punt.

Brady, relying on slants, flares, and quick digs to neutralize the Giants' pass rush, finally was able to mobilize a 96-yard TD drive right before halftime on a 4-yard scoring pass to Danny Woodhead with 8 seconds left in the half to put the Patriots ahead at the break, 10-9. And when the Patriots took the second-half kickoff and marched 79 yards to a 12-yard TD pass from Brady to TE Aaron Hernandez for a 17-9 lead, the G-Men looked in trouble.

For the rest of the game, however, the G-Men slowly regained control, although they didn't take the lead until Manning's 88-yard TD drive (featuring the 38-yard hook-up with Manningham) in the last four minutes, capped by Ahmad Bradshaw's 6-yard TD run with 57 seconds to play when Belichick instructed his defense to let Bradshaw score. The surprised Bradshaw could not resist the chance to tally the go-ahead TD rather than to take a knee at the one-yard-line to set up a potential winning, short-range FG by Tynes which would have left the Patriots with about 15 seconds (at most) to do something. Coughlin later defended Bradshaw's score by correctly pointing out that last-second field goals are never a gimme, citing Baltimore's miss in the AFC title game vs. the Patriots. Then it was time to hold on in the final 57 seconds against Brady, who never got the Patriots past midfield but was able to uncork a Hail Mary into the end zone on the final play that came tantalizingly close to being nabbed on the rebound by Pats' TE Rob Gronkowski, but instead fell harmlessly to the ground.

In conclusion, we thought there were a few keys to the Giants' triumph. Their ability to run the ball somewhat effectively (114 yards on 28 carries) and Eli's 30 completions in 40 pass attempts allowed the G-Men to control the ball for 37 minutes. New York's Steve Weatherford also backed up the Pats three times inside of their 10-yard line with his well-placed punts. And after being afforded good pass protection into the early part of the third quarter, Brady was thereafter severely harassed by the New York pass rush.

Mostly, however, New England's short passing game, though engineered smartly by Brady, never really stretched the Giants' defense, and in fact made for some tedious viewing. As New York's Justin Tuck said after the game, the Giants did not think they could lose if Brady insisted on the short-pass mode of attack.

The G-Men had a bit of luck, too, as two of their fumbles bounced back into their hands, including a potentially disastrous one by RB Bradshaw at their own 11-yard line early in the 4th quarter and still trailing, 17-15. Johnny-on-the-spot, however, was right guard Chris Snee, who made the recovery and prevented a gift to Brady. New York also avoided big trouble when usually-reliable WR Wes Welker couldn't hang on to a deep pass at the Giants' 20 in the 4th quarter when Brady was trying to run down the clock with the 17-15 lead. It was not as easy a catch as some media sorts are suggesting, however, as Welker had to twist awkwardly just to get his hands on the ball.

That failure reflected a key development during the game, one in which the Patriots' offense simply couldn't make any big plays. Its longest gain was a 21-yard pass from Brady to (of all people) Chad Ochocinco on the first play of the Pats' 3rd-quarter TD drive. It was also Ochocinco's only catch of the game.

Where do we rate this game in our all-time Super Bowl rankings, featured on our website at www.goldsheet.com? The last-minute drama was colorful, although it took on a slightly different hue when Belichick ordered the Patriots to allow Bradshaw to score the late TD (so long as Bradshaw took the bait). It was a tense battle throughout, but without many big or memorable plays, save Manningham's dramatic catch on the Giants' last TD drive, we have slotted this game at ninth on our all-time list, a notch behind SB XXIII between the Bengals and 49ers, featuring another last-minute TD drive, that one engineered by Joe Montana. With a few more big plays in that game 23 years ago, it rated a slight edge, but SB XLVI still rates a spot in our top ten. For the full and updated all-time Super Bowl rankings, please check out our website.

In the aftermath we have to wonder if Brady will ever get another shot in the "Supe," as he'll be 35 before the preseason slate begins in August. It had been four years since Brady's last chance in the big game, and it will be going on eight years since New England's last Super Bowl win when the 2012 campaign commences. We expect the Patriots will still be among the favorites in the AFC, which ironically has sent only three sides (New England, Pittsburgh, and Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis) to the Super Bowl over the past nine seasons. Master tactician Belichick seems to have lost little of his sorcery, and was able to blood many new faces into this season's defense, although the stop unit was hardly airtight.

But for all of the points the Patriots scored this season, the offense was not as scary as it was four years ago when Randy Moss was still able to provide Brady with a deep-threat receiver. New England could use a homerun wideout (who couldn't?) and an upgrade at running back, and of course will have to keep Brady healthy, to have a chance to get back to the Supe next year. Although the clock is definitely ticking for Brady.

As for Belichick, though his credentials remain unimpeachable, he remains one of the least endearing characters in pro football annals, a joyless sort along the lines of Alabama HC Nick Saban. As brilliant a coach as Belichick might be, we are not surprised by the disdain may football fans have of the Patriots, and we suggest the colorless Belichick is the main reason.

Meanwhile, for the Giants, Eli's credentials as an elite QB are now firmly established, as is his eventual candidacy for Canton. By us, we see some of Johnny Unitas in Eli, with the same unflappable cool. Eli's ability to stare down Brady and the Patriots in a pair of Super Bowls has kept New England just short of establishing the sort of dynasties that Green Bay (in the '60s), Pittsburgh (in the '70s), and San Francisco (in the '80s) were once able to forge. It's worth noting that the only two-time winning Super Bowl QB who hasn't made the HOF is the Raiders' Jim Plunkett, and we expect Eli is on his way. Coughlin might also be Canton-bound after his second Super Bowl win, and could be excused for contemplating retirement, although in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's game gave no hints about doing anything other than coaching some more in the near future.

Unlike old comrade Belichick, Coughlin at least exudes some humility, as does Eli, one of the more unassuming gridiron heroes we can recall with his "aw shucks" attitude that wears well in his current situation. Eli, however, should have silenced any remaining critics by now, and perhaps opened the eyes of the sporting press that has been quick to deify Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and brother Peyton, but has generally downgraded Eli, in the past.

Oh yes, speaking of Peyton Manning. It seems obvious to us, and most of our contacts, that the Colts aren't eager to bring Eli's older brother (off of serious neck surgery that sidelined him all of the 2011 campaign) back into the Indy fold, especially considering the $28 million contract guarantee he would soon receive if doing so. Reading between the lines, it seems as if owner Jim Irsay has cleared the organization of the "Peyton" men, who would have included deposed former GM Bill Polian and HC Jim Caldwell. Most believe the Colts will start over and draft a QB (either Stanford's Andrew Luck or Baylor's Robert Griffin) with the first pick. We seriously doubt new HC Chuck Pagano will ever have Peyton Manning take a snap for one his teams.

Our only question is what Jim Irsay might be waiting for before officially announcing that the team will not be bringing Peyton back in 2012. Whenever he does, it won't be much of a surprise.

Other Super Bowl XLVI observations...

Sometimes it seemed as if the football game was interrupting the steady stream of commercials, which have become their own storylines on Super Bowl Sunday. For what it's worth, here were a few that stood out to us:

1) The Skechers commercial featuring the bulldog Mr. Quigley winning the dog race, and moonwalking across the finish line. This is the same Skechers that used to waste advertising space on Kim Kardashian, so they've made progress. Dallas Mavs owner Mark Cuban also makes a quick appearance at the end of the commercial;

2) The MetLife cartoon summit. Seeing long-ago characters such as Top Cat, Speedy Gonzalez, Quick Draw McGraw, The Jetsons, Magilla Gorilla, and the Wacky Races crew, among others, not to mention old MetLife standbys Snoopy and the Charlie Brown gang, might have been the best feel-good commercial during the game;

3) The Acura commercial (the longer version) featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno. Clever stuff;

4) The Volkswagen commercial with the dog losing weight to fit through the doggie door so he can chase the new-look VW Beetle down the street (we're a bit partial to any dog ads), although we weren't quite sure about the second half of the commercial featuring Darth Vader.

As for Kelly Clarkson's rendition of the national anthem, it was mostly flawless, although we always believe sporting events should simply play a recording of the late Marvin Gaye's version from the 1983 NBA All-Star Game (check it out on You Tube to see what we're talking about). Meanwhile, we can't comment on the halftime show featuring Madonna, apparently complete with a "controversial" gesture by British singer M.I.A. Why?

Because at halftime, to my wife's delight, we tuned into the "Puppy Bowl" (featuring a quick segment with special guest star kitties) on the Animal Planet channel instead. We think we made the right call on that one.

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