FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Hanging from the steel framework at the home of the New England Patriots is a banner unlike any other in the NFL, one that commemorates their 16-0 record in the 2007 regular season.
The Patriots won every game that season and the first two in the playoffs as well, giving them a chance to be the first NFL team to finish the year 19-0. But their quest for perfection disintegrated — along with their hopes for a fourth title in seven years — when they ran into the New York Giants in the Super Bowl .
“We’ve won them, we’ve lost them, but they’re all in the past; they’re in the books,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Whatever happened or didn’t happen, can’t change it, it’s part of history. Right now I’m focused on getting ready for this week’s game. That’s the way it is every week: focus on the week that we’re playing, not what happened in the past.”
The Giants and Patriots will play again Sunday — the first time they’ve met in a game that counts since New York won the Super Bowl 17-14 with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including the one by Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left set up by David Tyree’s acrobatic catch. Although the teams have different emotions about that game, they agree the 2007 season and the ’08 Super Bowl are too far in the past to help them plan for this weekend.
“If we were still living in the shadow of 2007, then that’s one of our greatest downfalls,” defensive lineman Justin Tuck said. “We have to move on. … Obviously, 2007 was a great year in all of our careers, but that’s not going to help us going there this year. A lot of guys are back from those two teams and a lot of guys are gone.
“The better team this year is going to win the football game, not the better team in ’07.”
There are only 14 players left from the Super Bowl on the Giants now; for New England, it’s just seven. But some of the big names remain, including quarterbacks Tom Brady and Eli Manning.
“That’s a distant memory,” Brady said. “This is an entirely different team that we have and that they have. … We’ve played them in the preseason this year and that probably gives us a little more of an understanding of what they do then the game a few years ago.”
The Giants (5-2) and Patriots (5-2) both have impressive records — and still plenty of reason to doubt they are on the right track.
The Patriots lost to Pittsburgh on Sunday in a game that further exposed their NFL-worst defense, and showed what happens when the offense isn’t able to carry the team. Brady threw for a season-low 198 yards against a team he had dominated, and he was strip-sacked at the end of the game for a safety that cost the Patriots their remote chance at a comeback.
New York barely slipped by winless Miami last week, getting a touchdown pass from Manning to Victor Cruz with just under 6 minutes left to take the lead. Two key offensive players, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, are banged-up and might not play.
Next up for New York after New England: San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Green Bay, a stretch that is likely to determine whether the Giants make the playoffs for the second time since their Super Bowl win.
“It’s been a few years, so obviously now we’re more focused on trying to get back to those circumstances,” Manning said. “Our focus is on this week’s game and getting ready for the Patriots.”
The Giants may have been the ones that stood in New England’s way four years ago, but they were also the ones that made the 16-0 banner possible by losing to the Patriots on the final weekend of the regular season, 38-35.
They made up for it in the title game.
Coach Tom Coughlin doesn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it — not even this week.
“It seems like a long time ago,” he said. “I certainly was very proud of our players and very happy for our team and our franchise and our ownership, and I’ll always cherish those memories. There isn’t any a question about that.
“The New England Patriots were a team that had gone through the regular season undefeated, which is a feat that is very, very, very rare indeed, and they deserve credit for that. That’s the extent of it for me. I’m trying to live in the moment.”