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Xs AND O'S

Can they make Brady sweat?

February 01, 2008|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

New England quarterback Tom Brady has a reputation for being cool under pressure, but he looked a little rattled early in the third quarter when the Patriots played the New York Giants to end the regular season in late December.

With the Giants' pass rush applying steady pressure and using a variety of looks, Brady and the Patriots trailed New York, 28-16, and appeared on the verge of losing their first game of the season.

Although the Giants sacked Brady only once, they were able to get consistent hits on him and forced the two-time Super Bowl MVP into rushed throws and several uncharacteristically bad decisions.

The key for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's unit was New York's flexible pre-snap alignments.

In copying schemes used against New England by Baltimore and Philadelphia, the Giants effectively moved defenders along the line of scrimmage until the play began and the Patriots -- who had backup offensive linemen Ryan O'Callaghan and Russ Hochstein in the game -- struggled in pass protection.

But just when it seemed as if the Giants were going to pull off the biggest upset of the NFL season, Brady got the job done.

He led New England to three second-half touchdown drives in a 38-35 victory and finished with 356 yards passing. It was the type of performance people expect from Brady, who established a league record with 50 touchdown passes this season.

Brady's ability to throw every type of pass and make players around him look great puts him in a class by himself. Just ask any player who has won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots or any player who lost to them in the playoffs.

If New England wins its fourth Super Bowl in seven years, it's likely that Brady will be the main reason. But he'll have to get it done against a New York defense that already has made Brett Favre and Tony Romo look like ordinary quarterbacks in the playoffs.

The Giants, who led the NFL in sacks during the regular season, will again be a challenge for Brady because they can create havoc with only a four-man front, led by versatile Justin Tuck and ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora.

When the teams played during the regular season, Tuck was used at defensive tackle and proved to be more than a handful to block. But expect New England to be better prepared for Tuck's quickness up the middle Sunday.

A big difference for the Patriots will be having starting offensive tackle Nick Kaczur and guard Stephen Neal in the lineup. They both missed the teams' last game because of injuries.

Add center Dan Koppen, guard Logan Mankins and tackle Matt Light and the Patriots have arguably the most versatile offensive line in the NFL.

Their ability to keep rushers off Brady is a major reason why New England has won three NFL championships. But the Patriots' line will have to be at the top of its game because the Giants know that getting to Brady is best way to defeat New England.

Summary: Maybe the most frustrating thing for opponents playing against Brady is his willingness to take what a defense leaves open. Whether Brady is completing a short dump-off pass to running back Kevin Faulk or blitz-read passes to tight end Benjamin Watson or slot receiver Wes Welker, it's clear that Brady's goal is to always keep the Patriots' offense on the move. If he is able to stay true to that trend, the Giants' Super Bowl dream probably will come to an end Sunday.

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lonnie.white@latimes.com

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