The New York Giants and New England Patriots are two teams stacked with elite NFL talent. In the Super Bowl, however, there are always those lesser-known players who turn up big when their team needs them the most.
When these two teams met in Super Bowl XLII, special teams standout David Tyree became an icon in New York with the greatest catch ever made.
The Giants and Patriots each boast a handful of players capable of playing the role of that unknown savior. Here is a look at seven little-known players who will play a big part in the Super Bowl for their teams.
Since re-debuting for the New York Giants in Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers, Chase Blackburn has been a solid benefactor at middle linebacker. Blackburn has been the leader the Giants needed at middle linebacker since the retirement of Antonio Pierce.
A castoff following the 2010 season, Blackburn has earned his place on the Giants’ roster with superb play in coverage and against the run. Once a special teams stud, Blackburn is proving he can be just as useful anchoring the Giants’ young linebackers group.
His contributions in the playoffs have not slowed either. In three playoff games, Blackburn has 20 tackles.
Expect Blackburn to play an integral part in slowing down the Patriots running game and keeping tabs on Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in coverage.
In the Week 9 meeting between the New York Giants and New England Patriots, Andre Carter was the Pats’ top pass rusher with 4.5 sacks on the season.
Since that time, however, Carter has gone down with a season-ending injury to his left quadriceps. In his place now is Mark Anderson, a former All-Rookie team defensive end who finished the year off for the Patriots. Anderson has four sacks in five games since taking over for Carter.
Anderson has proven to be a dangerous threat off the edge for the Patriots at the outside linebacker position in the 3-4 base defense, being a pivotal stopper against the run as much as he has been against the pass.
Anderson’s ability to seal off the outside edge could be a vital advantage for the Patriots against a Giants running team whose top rusher, Ahmad Bradshaw, loves to bounce his runs to the outside.
One of the New York Giants’ most overlooked keys in their Super Bowl run in 2008 was the outstanding play from fullback Madison Hedgecock. This season, the Giants lacked a much-needed presence from a serviceable player at the position due, in part, to rookie Henry Hynoski missing five games—including the Giants’ Week 9 matchup with the New England Patriots—because of a neck injury.
Hynoski has proved to be much more than a serviceable fullback for the Giants in recent weeks, though, excelling in both blocking and receiving for the Big Blue offensive unit. In the Giants’ 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, he caught three passes for 20 yards.
He is quickly showing why he was so highly touted entering the 2011 NFL Draft and has certainly earned himself a place on the Giants roster with his play in the second-half of the regular season and postseason.
The Giants will rely on him to open up some holes in the Patriots’ stout defensive unit as well as contribute in the passing game when needed in order to succeed in the Super Bowl.
If there is a secret weapon the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick have that no one knows about, it’s running back Stevan Ridley.
The most explosive back of the Patriots’ collection, Ridley is the perfect combination with starting back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and would force the New York Giants’ ambiguous defense to stay on its toes.
Ridley led an impressive rookie campaign with 87 carries for 441 yards and a touchdown. His stellar season is marred only by back-to-back games with fumbles, that gave Belichick reason to sit his rookie running back for the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens.
At this time, it does not appear Ridley will sit out the Super Bowl as well and it would benefit the Patriots if he did not. Ridley, who average 5.1 yards per carry during the regular season, could be a homerun threat against a Giants defense currently allowing five yards per carry to opposing rushers.
Perhaps Jake Ballard is better known than most on this list, but that has a lot to do with his game-changing performance against the New England Patriots in Week 9—as well as his David Tyree-like grab in the New York Giants’ game-winning drive.
Ballard, another successful undrafted signing by the Giants, finished that Week 9 matchup with 67 yards on four receptions, that phenomenal circus catch and the Giants’ game-winning touchdown.
Ballard has been a popular target for Eli Manning all season long, though he has been less productive thus far in the postseason. There would be no better a time for him to come up big for the Giants once again than in the Super Bowl against the Patriots.
The New York Giants have escaped any major special teams mishaps thus far. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots’ Julian Edelman changes that with a big punt return that could shift momentum in dramatic fashion.
Edelman has also been a good option when needed at wide receiver and, surprisingly, one of the Patriots’ better options in pass coverage. He could be lined up across Hakeem Nicks, a similar player to the Baltimore Ravens’ Anquan Boldin whom Edelman spent much of the AFC Championship Game covering.
The most underrated player amongst an All-Star defensive line for the New York Giants is second-year defensive tackle Linval Joseph.
Joseph has posted an impressive sophomore campaign for the Giants and has been every bit a key to their Super Bowl run as Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Canty on the defensive line. He finished out the 2011 regular season with 49 tackles and two sacks.
Joseph’s most impressive performance to date came in a big stage game, much like Super XLVI, with the undefeated Green Bay Packers. The former East Carolina Pirate kept the Packers in check, recording a career-high nine tackles.
He has showed continued progress and has improved his game dramatically over the course of this season. Expect Joseph to take another big step for the Giants in Indianapolis on Sunday.