Pats' focus has them in the clear

The Baltimore Sun

Glendale, Ariz.-- --It doesn't happen all the time, but now it's happening two years in a row. No matter which team wins the Super Bowl tonight, it's going to make history.

A year ago in Miami, whether the Indianapolis Colts or Chicago Bears won, a black coach was going to win a Super Bowl for the first time. OK, so this year, when the New England Patriots and New York Giants meet, it won't pack such a societal punch.

All it will do is give us, perhaps (maybe, by game's end, inarguably), the greatest team in NFL history - or this generation's version of Joe Namath's New York Jets, and even that might be damning such a result with faint praise.

Only the most die-hard Giants fans and the most dedicated Patriots haters, of course, believe the Giants will win. But as it has been pointed out often in the two weeks leading up to tonight, being capable of beating the Patriots and actually finishing the job are two separate arguments.

The Patriots are one victory away from becoming legends, and plenty are treating this as a foregone conclusion, with the event at University of Phoenix Stadium being more of a coronation than a game. And this is all while, for once, the buildup has not been a desperate ploy to drum up interest in an apparent one-sided matchup. In any other season against any other team, the run the Giants have gone on would be acknowledged as the deciding factor.

Not only would their predictions of victory not be smirked at - you might not have heard about this yet, but Plaxico Burress is calling it Giants 23, Patriots 17 - they might not even need to make predictions to get their own juices flowing. The Giants have all the ingredients for a championship, tangible and, more important to them, intangible. They have won games the way the previous versions of the Patriots have - with toughness, resilience, adaptability and a growing confidence that somehow they will find a way.

That has been the hallmark of their regular-season road wins, and of the three road wins that got them here. They've done everything a little bit better each step of the way. Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, the defensive line, the often-injured secondary, Burress himself, all fit that bill.

Heck, there's no more significant renaissance on this team than the one by Lawrence Tynes, who had to have it in the course of about 20 minutes two Sundays ago in sub-Arctic Green Bay, kicking the Giants into the Super Bowl in overtime after two late missed field-goal attempts and a patented Tom Coughlin tongue-lashing.

The Giants show every sign of being good enough to win.

But ... so have so many Patriots opponents this season. It hasn't happened yet.

It is not impossible to envision the Giants getting an early jump on the Patriots, or fighting off an early run to stay close or even take a late lead. It has happened before to the Patriots, particularly later in the regular season and the playoffs, once they stopped being able to pile up points in the fourth quarter.

But the Patriots have an edge that has worked in their favor this year and every year they've won: They are so grounded, so focused, that nothing penetrates them. Every possible factor has been thrown at them to possibly unhinge them. Not just Spygate, Brady's ankle, Richard Seymour's lengthy absence because of injury and Rodney Harrison's drug suspension, but simple things, such as blending in waves of new players in big roles, the Mosses, Thomases and Welkers, and keeping their heads from swelling because of the bloated scores and the overheated, season-long hype about finishing unbeaten.

"Even ourselves, within this team, we don't consider ourselves invincible," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "The minute you consider yourselves invincible, you are letting your guard down. If you think you can't be beat, that's the wrong thought to have."

It has worked every week this season for them, even as they've known they've made this trip before, even though the proof has grown every game that no one is good enough to finish the job on them.

It will work for them again tonight. The Giants will give them a great game. The Patriots will give them a better one. It will be a coronation after all, it will be history - and they'll cover the spread. Patriots, 34-21.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

David Steele -- Points after

I've been out of town all week, and I get back tomorrow. Did I miss anything with the Orioles while I was gone?

It's a Super Bowl sight that never gets less depressing: players recently finished with their careers, limping from booth to booth and up and down hallways, looking 20 years older than they are. But that's OK: Ridiculing Gene Upshaw for a few more years will loosen those joints right up.

Say what you will about Brian Billick as a coach, but you can't deny that he looks and sounds like a natural with a microphone in his hand.

The real question we won't get answered for 35 more years: Will the Patriots someday surpass the 1972 Dolphins as the grumpiest team in NFL history?

Stay tuned to tonight's TV Azteca Super Bowl post-game show, with insightful analysis from our reporter on the scene in the wedding dress.

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