While on vacation at Disney, I was fortunate enough to catch the big 16-0. During the first half, this was a pretty even game - though the Giants led at halftime. It was when the Giants went up by 12, that things were looking scary. Eli and team were running up and down the field at will. They were stopping the normally prolific Pats.
Then something happened. Though I had a feeling of dread, I felt that they would turn it around. If they truly were a Super Bowl caliber team, then that is what greatness is all about. You don't have the luxury of always being ahead. Circumstances like a kickoff return touchdown or a dropped pass can put you behind. In the Giants' case, it was just good aggressive play.
The Patriots must have felt the same way, because they turned it around. Brady found his passing touch, the offensive line held their opponents, and the receivers found their slots. Having Watson back allowed for the short inside option. Welker and Faulk played the slot and Brady found them. You could feel the energy as the Patriots narrowed it to 5 with 12 minutes to go. The defense held the Giants to a quick 3 and out by heavily blitzing Manning. A few possessions later, Brady threw that 2nd bomb for the pivotal touchdown with little real time remaining for 2 scores.
This truly is the mark of greatness - when both the offense and defense step it up to take out a strong playoff team that was playing for the spoiler in what normally would be a meaningless game. This is actually good for the Patriots. They know that they will have to play 60 minutes to win. Sometimes, the defense of a high scoring team settles a bit, but this one knows that they will have to make the big play, like Hobbs' amazing sideline interception. They can't too cocky, because they did not blow them away.
I remember this with teams like Minnesota and St. Louis where over-reliance on a high scoring offense ruined their chances in the playoffs. You have to be strong on both sides of the ball.
Belichick never let his team get ahead of themselves. He treated each week as a mini-season. Never worry about 16-0, just about winning the next game. Similarly, he will not allow this team to get caught up with thinking they have won the Super Bowl today. He will have them break down the film and critique each error. Moss will not get away with the silly end zone celebration. Harrison will not get away with stupid personal fouls for trash talking or late hits. Great leaders find a way to focus their team on the next goal - not on uncontrollable distractions.
What should have been a meaningless game became important because it was for the coveted 16-0 record and pride on the other side. Both teams played well. These are great life lessons. It's important to always be on your toes. Never get down on yourself if you are behind - stay confident and cool under pressure. Draw deep inside to learn and find a way to win. The best know how to do it. Others just have excuses.
Can't wait till the playoffs.