Defense will carry Giants over Patriots again

By Tom Canavan

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The Giants also have gotten a little lucky heading into this one. Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a high sprain to his left ankle in the AFC title game against Baltimore. It probably will reduce his effectiveness.

Offensively, Eli Manning has had a career year, and the Giants can match the Patriots point for point. With New York's running game struggling much of the season, the key will be keeping Manning upright. San Francisco sacked him six times and hit him 20 times overall in the NFC title game.

However, the Patriots D isn't in the same category as 49ers. The Patriots allowed the second-most yards in the NFL during the regular season, and their secondary repeatedly got burned for big plays.

Vince Wilfolk will stuff the middle but Manning should have a field day against a shaky New England secondary. There's no way Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and nickel back-receiver Julian Edelman stop Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham and tight end Jake Ballard.

Championships often are decided by a big play, and Cruz and Nicks have been turning little plays into touchdowns all season. There likely will be chances for more of those.

With both offenses so formidable, former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy felt the game was going to be decided by a special teams play, a blocked punt or field goal, or some other play.

"Both teams are here because of special teams plays," Levy said. "When you get two very closely matched teams, which I think they are, look for the kicking game to determine the outcome."

Not likely. Not with the Giants' defense.

Final score: Giants 31, Patriots 17.

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