INDIANAPOLIS - Super Bowls come down to pressure. Who feels it? Who brings it? Who best manages off-field distractions and in-game surprises?
"I tell our younger guys, don't make this game bigger than it has to be," New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck says. "There's going to be a lot of parties, a lot of people pulling at your coattails. Go out there and handle your business. You win this thing, you can party all you want."
Early story lines will focus on the potential Hall of Fame legacies of quarterbacks Tom Brady and Eli Manning and whether the New England Patriots can protect Brady from a fierce Giants pass rush enough to regain the Lombardi Trophy mojo that eluded them in a 17-14 loss in Super Bowl XLII.
"There's a little more pressure on the Patriots," ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Ron Jaworski says. "They're playing great. But they lost that Super Bowl to the Giants. They want vindication. Long shots two months ago to make the playoffs, the Giants are playing with house money, confident, loose. It all comes down to the Giants pass rush."
"It pains Tom Brady to no end to have gotten to a fourth Super Bowl and not to have won," Fox analyst and three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Troy Aikman said. "Then whatever it is that will be said here this next week, you can imagine how motivated Tom will be along with Bill Belichick."
Manning arrives Monday in the NFL city of older brother Peyton, who missed the season after September neck surgery and sees his playing future with the Indianapolis Colts in doubt. Eli has filled Peyton's place as a Patriots adversary, twice trumping Brady on last-minute drives, including a 24-20 victory Nov. 6. If he wins a second Lombardi Trophy, Eli will own Manning family bragging rights, two rings to one.
"You look at Peyton and everything he's accomplished, it's almost funny to think Eli could possibly have more Super Bowl rings than Peyton this early in his career," NBC Football Night in America analyst Rodney Harrison says.
"There's a lot of times when you go into a game and Tom Brady is the best quarterback, hands down. I don't know if I can say Brady is the best quarterback in this game, hands down."
Brady's two-interception, no-touchdown-pass performance against the Baltimore Ravens in New England's 23-20 AFC Championship Game win is a sign of recent postseason struggle. Since going 10-0 with three interceptions and winning three Super Bowls to start his playoff career, Brady is 6-5 in the postseason with 16 interceptions, the biggest indicator of how big a burden he carries.
"(The Giants) put a lot of pressure on you with their front four," Brady says.
Yet he exerts heat, too, when he revs up his no-huddle, fast-break attack.
"The question I keep asking myself is, will Tom Brady lose two Super Bowls?" ESPN analyst Herman Edwards said. "I can't answer that question yet."
CBS analyst Phil Simms noted how Brady showed great patience in checking to shotgun draw runs in no-huddle mode to help erase Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs.
"The Patriots are willing to win in whatever way they have to," Simms said. "Their willingness to run when they had to got them to the Super Bowl."
Patriots left tackle Matt Light told Harrison that the Giants, with nine sacks in three postseason wins, have the best pass rush his team has faced.
"(Offensive coordinator) Bill O'Brien has the hardest job in America on (Sunday)," Harrison says. "He has to find a way to neutralize that pass rush."
More so Brady than O'Brien.
"The way to kill a snake is to take off his head," Tuck says. "The way to kill an offense as potent as that one is making sure you take care of Brady."
By: Jim Corbett, USA TODAY