This one hurts more than 2008. That team played in the wake of the Spy Gate revelation. They annihilated almost everyone. Everyone rooted for them to lose. And on the biggest stage, they complied, underperforming and allowing an overachieving Giants team to win an improbable victory.
This team on the other hand, showed grit, a lot of appealing overachieving players and a cause in the collective grieving for Myra H. Kraft. Despite mediocre stats, they hung together and just kept winning, defying critics who dismissed them as Brady and Co., and who kept waiting for their defense to collapse in the clutch.
In some simple sense, that happened tonight. The secondary gave up a big play to let the Giants out of a giant hole, and you know the rest. But I for one want to challenge that narrative, because I think in the grand scheme of things the offense lost the game more than the defense.
If you had told me that the score would be 17-9 with ten minutes left in the third period, and that the defense would surrender but two field goals in the next twenty minutes or so, I would have taken that scenario every time. But the bottom line is that ahead, and very much in control of the game, on two crucial drives, the Pats' offense muffed.
The first featured Brady again trying to do too much, forcing an underthrown deep ball to Gronkowski, which the Giants intercepted. Never mind that the defender interfered on the play by pushing off against Gronk; Brady should not have thrown that ball. Up until then he'd been pretty much flawless, patient and accurate, and the Giants seemed confused and back on their heels.
The second drive hurt even more. Brady overthrew Welker, who on good days still would have caught the ball, inside the Giant's twenty-yard line. Another miss to Branch, on the penultimate drive, forced them to punt, leading to the winning drive.
Is this loss on Brady? He missed Gronkowski, a lot. He missed a consistent outside the numbers threat, and a deep threat downfield. It's what observers noted all year: in the end too much of the game depended on his playing the perfect game, which he failed to deliver. Good, very good at times, but not perfect. They just lacked enough weapons to complement him. And for all that, they still could have won.
Offenses win games in today's NFL. They win by scoring points, and for almost every team, including the best of them, by staying on the field enough to keep their usually weaker defense from being exposed. Tonight the Pats offense enjoyed multiple opportunities to put this game away, such that the Giants' last drive wouldn't have mattered. But the Pats couldn't do it. Brady couldn't do it.
Unlike last time, when the Giants played about as well as they could have, tonight they played well only in spurts, and enjoyed some luck in the form of two fumbles, both of which they recovered. But they had more complementary pieces than the Patriots, just enough to win.
Brady will feel this one forever. Two or three throws he'd pay the devil to have back. But there's no rewind button in life. Wait until next year, I hear you cry. When hopefully Belichick finds more balance for this appealing but limited cast of characters. They're oh so close.