HERE’S WHY EVERYBODY MADE A GIANT MISTAKE

GLENDALE, Ariz. – No more predictions.

If the Giants stunning the perfect Patriots in Super Bowl XLII didn’t prove, once and for all, the folly of predicting sporting events, nothing will. All the TV panels, all the radio call-ins, all the “picks” columns in newspaper sports sections – what’s the point? All we do is give fodder to the winning team to declare “nobody believed in us.”

We were wrong, all wrong, all we Patriot Pickers, we Giant Doubters, we AFC Elitists, as wrong as we could be, and so first, we should stop doing it. If that means fewer shows, fewer articles, less hype before the big game – so be it.

It beats looking like idiots after the fact.

Having said that, let’s see how we blew it.

The battle in the trenches

1) Let’s begin with the line play. This is always the most ignored segment of a team – and the most important. All week, the hoopla was about quarterbacks and receivers. (They are the sexiest stories. After all, how often does a nose guard bring flowers to his supermodel girlfriend?)

But the Giants’ defensive line was mostly responsible for New York’s victory, and the Patriots’ offensive line was a big reason New England lost. Tom Brady? He looks pretty mortal when big bodies are slamming into him. Laurence Maroney? He’s only a game-breaker when he can break free. The Pats only allowed 21 sacks in the regular season; they allowed FIVE Sunday!

One came on the Patriots’ opening drive of the second half. A huge play. The Pats had reached field-goal range and had a third-and-seven when Michael Strahan mauled Brady to the ground for a six-yard loss. Bill Belichick, for some reason, decided the 31-yard line was too far for a kick, went for it on fourth down – and failed. Had the Giants’ line not made that sack, it’s likely the Pats would have had at least three more points – the ultimate difference in this game.

Meanwhile, the Giants’ offensive line (quick, name me one of them!) did a good job of protecting Eli Manning on the long opening drive that set the tone of the game and in the fourth quarter when it was decided.

2) Speaking of Manning, in the rush to gush over Brady’s magnificence, we forgot that Eli could do one thing better than his rival: move around. Manning’s biggest plays came when he slipped away from the defensive pressure. He did this several times in finding guys like Steve Smith for medium gains, and he did it, of course, on the biggest play of the night, the third-down miracle heave to David Tyree. Manning should have gone down several times on that play. He was bumped, grabbed and yanked, but somehow he escaped. Brady had no such elusiveness. He wishes he had.

The power of the press

3) In retrospect, we ignored some warning trends. The Giants were underdogs everywhere and kept winning, while the Patriots, for all their favored excellence, were never a shutdown defense in the mold of the 1985 Bears – the kind of defense that usually wins titles. The fact is, in recent games, teams were able to move the ball on New England. The Jaguars did it in the playoffs. The Chargers did, too. Even the Giants did it in the last regular-season loss.

Yet in our rush to see perfection realized, we somehow saw this as correctable on the big stage of the Super Bowl. It wasn’t. You don’t change stripes that fast. The Giants rolled up more yardage than the Patriots, had possessions of 83, 80, 63 and 46 yards and had two critical drives – their first and their last – in which the Pats allowed nine first downs.

Nine first downs?

4) Finally, we need to acknowledge the monster we create. In today’s media-soaked world, when we overhype a favored team, we seem to change the game itself. The underdog gets focused and motivated; the overdog starts to think it can’t lose. With all the TV, Internet, radio and print, we honestly seem to be tilting the balance of things. How else do you explain the constant drumbeat of major upsets? Florida knocking off Ohio State in college football? Colorado making the World Series? Golden State upsetting Dallas in the NBA? The Giants doing this? It’s almost as if we reach a tipping point of hype, where you can see victory crawling away from the hot favorite and into the cool camp of the underdog.

Or maybe we’re just really bad at this. Maybe we focus on the wrong things. Maybe, just maybe, sports is supposed to be a world where anything is possible on any given day. In that case, instead of predicting and overanalyzing, all we have to do is watch. Shut up and watch. Now that sounds like fun.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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