By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts pigskin project engineer
We're not going to pretend we expected a Giants victory over the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
We didn't. Nobody in their right mind did – which is why New York's 17-14 victory is the greatest upset in Super Bowl history. In fact, we think the exact words we used were "mismatch of the century
." But, hey, who's counting?
stood in stark contrast to the clichés that pass for analysis of the "pundits." The typical recipe for a New York victory called for the oldest, most useless clichés in the book: the Giants needed to "establish the run" and "control the clock."
They did neither, as "establishing the run" and "controlling the clock" are rarely keys to victory. The Giants picked up 91 rushing yards on 26 carries (3.5 YPA) in the Super Bowl. In fact, the Giants did not run the ball well at all in the playoffs, averaging just 3.5 YPA in their 4-0 postseason, well below the 4.6 YPA they averaged during their 10-6 regular season. And the time of possession in the Super Bowl was a virtual dead heat: New York held the ball for 30:27 to 29:33 for New England.
Still, the Giants won, providing further evidence that clichés about running the ball and controlling the clock are so useless they should be taken behind the woodshed and shot.
So, as we did following the AFC title game
, we send out our building inspector of upsets to examine New York's work and see how well they followed our Big-Blueprint for victory.
The inspector's report: When we first issued the Big-Blueprint, we thought there was little chance of New York executing this part of the project properly.
Yet on Super Bowl Sunday, the Giants not just established the pass more effectively than the Patriots, they dominated the passing battle. The Giants averaged 6.7 Passing Yards Per attempt – more than 50 percent better than New England's 4.3 Passing Yards Per Attempt.
It was New England's worst passing day of the season. And it's a credit to the single most important reason for New York's playoff run: the Giants pass defense. As we pointed out before the Super Bowl
, the Giants pass defense was the great untold story of the 2007-08 playoffs.
New York's four playoff opponents included the three top passing teams
in 2007 (Cowboys, Packers, Patriots). Yet New York's playoff opponents were held to just 5.1 Yards Per Passing Attempt. Truly a remarkable performance.
The inspector's verdict: Structurally sound. The Giants perfectly executed this aspect of the Big-Blueprint.
Somehow, they actually struggled in this area in the playoffs, despite their three straight road victories. The Giants had totaled just three sacks, for example, in their first three playoff games. The Big-Blueprint said that the Giants needed to return to regular-season form to beat New England, and force the Patriots into five Negative Pass Plays.
The inspector's verdict: Structurally sound. The Giants followed the Big-Blueprint perfectly and forced exactly five Negative Pass Plays (five sacks), tying the season high for Negative Pass Plays committed by the Patriots in 2007.
The inspector's report: the Cold, Hard Football Facts have identified a very clear postseason interception ladder. Basically, with each INT a team tosses in the playoffs their chances of winning decline by 20 to 25 percentage points.
With the Giants a huge underdog, it seemed only natural that a single pick would drop New York's chances for victory from somewhere well below 50 percent to somewhere close to 0 percent. The need to play mistake-free football was only intensified by New England's penchant for making opponents pay for nearly every mistake they made.
Yet the Giants made this hugely critical mistake in the second quarter: The Patriots had just taken a 7-3 lead when an Eli Manning pass bounced off the hands of Steve Smith and into the arms of Ellis Hobbs.
The Patriots took over at their own 33 and were poised to take a 14-3 lead 20 minutes into the game. It would have been all over except for the trophy ceremony.
Instead, the Patriots went three-and-out after Laurence Maroney was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on 3rd and 1. The Giants made about six or eight huge plays on both sides of the ball in Super Bowl XLII, without anyone of which they might have lost the game. And that huge stop on Maroney after New York's one turnover was as big as any of those plays.
The Giants had made the one critical mistake we thought would cost them the game. But they quickly killed any momentum with that even more critical stop on 3rd and 1.
The inspector's verdict: The Giants failed to follow the Big-Blueprint in this area, but made up for the failure by buttressing and over-engineering their upset with a huge, momentum-crushing defensive stop.
The inspector's report: The Giants hung with the Patriots in Week 17 largely because of Domenik Hixon's 74-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Giants did not get that single explosive special teams play in Super Bowl XLII. But they clearly outperformed the Patriots, whose effort was hampered by an embarrassing special teams mistake, poor punting and a curious coaching decision.
New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski shanked his first kickoff in the second quarter, giving the Giants the ball at their own 40. The Patriots netted an average of just 30 yards on their four punts, and punter Chris Hanson failed on his one chance to pin the Giants inside the 20 when he kicked the ball into the end zone.
The Giants were pinned inside their own 20 just once – on their game-winning drive when they took over after a New England kickoff at the 17 in the final 3 minutes of the game.
The Patriots also made the worst decision of the day: given a chance to kick a 48-yard field goal on the first drive of the second half, and perhaps take a 10-3 lead, New England coach Bill Belichick passed on the opportunity and went for the first – on 4th and 13!
Naturally, the Patriots failed to convert.
Victory almost always goes to the team that displays dash and daring. But passing up potential points on a desperation 4th and 13 play is reckless by any measure. The Giants didn't immediately turn New England's failure into points, but they were able to pin the Patriots back on their own 10 on their next series: a net loss of 59 yards from the time the Patriots passed on the field goal attempt.
The inspector's verdict: Creative construction, but structurally sound. The Giants did not make an explosive special teams play. But their opponent made countless special teams mistakes that turned this part of the game into a huge advantage for New York.
The inspector's report: The Patriots played six games during the 2007 season in which the game was still in doubt in the fourth quarter.
In every single one of those six games, their opponents wilted under the pressure and the Patriots dominated the final quarter. In fact, New England outscored these six teams (Dallas, Indy, Philly, Baltimore, N.Y Giants, San Diego) by a combined fourth-quarter score of 70-24.
In other words, New England owned the fourth quarter in critical games all season. And, as Fox reported during its Super Bowl broadcast, the Patriots were 80-1 in the Tom Brady Era when taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
If the Giants were going to have any hope of victory, they needed to find a way to reverse this trend.
The Giants scored 14 of their 17 points in the fourth quarter, turning a 7-3 deficit to start the final stanza into a 17-14 victory. The Patriots are now just 80-2 after taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
And, because the Patriots failed to play the final 15 minutes of football, they're the first team to head into the Super Bowl undefeated and head out the other side losers.
The inspector's verdict: Structurally sound. The Giants became the first team in 2007 to outplay the Patriots in the fourth quarter. And, not so coincidentally by following our Big-Blueprint for victory, they became the first team in 2007 to beat the Patriots.