Many believed that the journey to Tampa Bay in February would wind through Dallas or San Diego, or perhaps through New England, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, or Tennessee.
The idea of the New York Giants defending their Super Bowl LXII title was an afterthought, and the prospect of the Giants meeting their fellow Meadowlands tenants, the New York Jets, in Super Bowl XLIII, wasn’t even considered.
However, fast forward now, to Week 12 of the 2008 NFL regular season, and suddenly what exists, is the very real possibility of a first-ever all-New York (or if you prefer, all-New Jersey) Super Bowl on the first day of February, 2009.
Yes, that’s the new prevailing view for both a defending champion who has until now, proven itself as the team to beat in the NFC, and similarly, for the team which is this week’s fashionable pick in what has become a scrambled race among several different teams for AFC dominance.
For the Giants, flash back to Super Bowl XLII when looking at Sunday’s game in Arizona. Same locker room, same sideline, same result.
Returning for the first time to the place they were crowned Super Bowl XLII champions, the Giants, as they often have, overcame adversity to do something they’ve done all but once in their past fifteen games -– win. Again.
Playing together as a true team, and having others step up to continue to roll is something that has seemingly become second nature for the Giants. They lose Tiki Barber to retirement and Jeremy Shockey to injury (and later, for good, to Shockey’s poor attitude), and they win a Super Bowl with Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Derrick Ward, and Kevin Boss. They see Michael Strahan retire and Osi Umenyiora lost to injury for the 2008 season, and they pressure 2008 NFL MVP candidate Kurt Warner into enough mistakes on Sunday to hand the Cardinals their first loss in five home games.
Given that track record, it’s no wonder that with their leading rusher Brandon Jacobs missing all of Sunday’s game with a knee injury, and with their best receiver Plaxico Burress sidelined for most of the game (after aggravating a previous hamstring injury in the first quarter), the Giants would find several others to fill those voids in torching Arizona’s defense and special teams for nearly forty points, in a 37-29 win on Sunday.
For those who may still think last year’s run from a 10-6 regular season record to NFL champions was a fluke, the Giants became only the second team in NFL history on Sunday to win five consecutive games against teams with winning records (the 1970 Minnesota Vikings first accomplished that feat).
Despite their 2008 success, the Giants know their path to another Super Bowl remains a difficult one. However, their win over the Cardinals coupled with Carolina’s loss to Atlanta on Sunday leaves the Giants in very good shape for earning the top seed in the NFC. With five weeks left in the regular season, the 10-1 Giants lead both Carolina and Tampa Bay (each 8-3) by a full two games. The Giants don’t play the Buccaneers before the postseason, but they do host the Panthers in the next-to-last week of the regular season, December 21st, at Giants Stadium.
Should the Giants ride a possible number one seed to another Super Bowl, the AFC representative they could play also needs to be sorted out over the next couple of months.
Suddenly, that team is looking more and more like it could be New York’s other team after the Jets won a big statement game on the road for the second straight week.
After taking hold of the AFC East with last week’s overtime win in New England, the Jets waltzed into Nashville and handed the Tennessee Titans (10-1) their first loss of the season, and it wasn’t even close, in a 34-13 rout.
The Jets set the tone early with a nine-play, 76-yard drive grabbing a 7-0 lead just 4:35 into Sunday’s contest on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Thomas Jones, and they never looked back.
How much of a declaration was it that the Jets have arrived as serious Super Bowl contenders? Check these numbers: though the Jets were outgained through the air (236 yards to 217), Jets’ quarterback Brett Favre was very sharp, completing 25 of 32 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns; the Jets held a huge advantage on the ground, racking up 192 rushing yards to the Titans’ 45; and New York held the ball for more than two-thirds of the game, winning the time of possession battle, 40:30 to 19:30.
The past two weeks, against teams like the Patriots and Titans, are the types of games the Jets spent so much offseason money on upgrading key positions, especially of course, with the signing of Favre, and those moves seem to be paying off now.
At 8-3, the Jets are tied with Pittsburgh (also 8-3) for the second seed in the AFC behind Tennessee. However, given that the Jets just manhandled the Titans on their own turf, they should have plenty of confidence of going back to Nashville for a potential AFC championship game if the Titans and Jets end up as the top two seeds in the AFC.
Of course, it’s understood that defense often wins championships, but also it’s interesting to see which two teams, each now widely recognized as perhaps the current teams to beat in their respective conferences, are the top two NFL offenses at this point.
Two games in two weeks for Jets to significantly measure their progress from more modest hopes of years past, and 34 points scored by the Jets in each of those games. The Jets now rank second with 29.4 points per game, behind only the Giants, who lead the NFL in scoring with 29.9 points per game.
It’s only Thanksgiving week, so no one in New York is thinking beyond Macy’s floats in terms of any parades. But, if things continue for the next couple of months as they have recently, we may know by the end of January if at least one New York team might be gearing up for a parade of their own.