Who was that wearing the blue No. 12 jersey for the New England Patriots in Week 9?
There is no way that could have been Tom Brady.
This guy was not accurate. He was jumpy in the pocket. He made bad reads. He even flinched at perceived pressure on one play.
Does that sound like Tom Brady?
It sure doesn't, but that was Brady taking snaps from center for the Patriots that day against the New York Giants, the team he will meet again in Super Bowl XLVI a week from Sunday. In the first meeting, Brady looked like anything but the player who put up gaudy numbers this season or the two-time MVP and three-time Super Bowl winner. His final numbers were fine. He passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns -- which says something about his bad days -- but he was also picked twice and looked unsettled in the pocket for much of the game as the Giants won 24-20.
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"Our pass rush is designed to rattle a quarterback and we did that to him that day," Giants safety Deon Grant said.
The Giants sacked Brady twice, but pressured him a lot more than that. The flinch came in the third quarter when he seemed to see pressure in his face, but it wasn't near him, making it so unlike Brady, who has a great feel in the pocket.
The Giants' secret that day was what they call their "Buffalo" or "Bison" package.
Basically, the key component was Grant.
The Giants took out a linebacker and used Grant, a 12-year veteran safety, as a linebacker the entire game, giving the Giants three safeties on the field. Grant lined up in a variety of spots to help match up with the Patriots' two-tight-end sets.
Over the course of the game, Grant lined up 30 times as a linebacker, 26 times as a safety and 13 times on the line of scrimmage.
He was locked in man coverage with Rob Gronkowski, New England's all-world tight end, 15 times, getting an interception of Brady when matched in man coverage with Gronkowski. He also blitzed nine times from various spots along the line.
"It's a special defense," Grant said. "Sometimes I am a linebacker. Sometimes I am safety. Sometimes I am a nickel back. It worked that day."
The defense was something the Giants first used in a game against the Indianapolis Colts in 2010. The Colts lit it up in a 38-14 victory on a Sunday night in Week 2. The idea behind the defense was to try and slow down the Colts passing game with Peyton Manning.
What Indianapolis did that night was run it against that defense. The Colts ran for 124 yards in the first half and jumped out to a 24-0 lead.
"I was wrong that night because I didn't have the right combinations," Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "The idea was there. We kept experimenting over the course of that season to improve on it."
Said Grant: "Guys didn't really know what they were doing that night. There was a lot of confusion."
Eventually, they got it. And it seemed to make a lot of sense against Brady and his tight-end-based offense.
At 6-2, 215 pounds, Grant is big enough to match up with the tight ends and can also tackle. In his man-to-man battles with Gronkowski, he did a good job. On the interception, he made a diving grab on a pass that could have been a big play.
Then on the next play for the New England offense, he showed blitz as a linebacker in the middle of the line, took a step forward, dropped out, and almost picked off another pass.
In that game, the Giants would line Grant up as a linebacker with Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka or Jacquian Williams. When he lined up at safety, they would drop safety Antrel Rolle, a former corner, down into the box.
"Tom Brady is such a smart player, you have to match wits with him," Fewell said. "Deon can do that. He's a smart player who is versatile."
It seemed to really rattle Brady. The Patriots didn't score a point in the first half, didn't get a touchdown until there was 14:28 left in the game and Brady did a lot of uncharacteristically bad things. Among them:
• In the first quarter, Brady short-armed a pass to Gronkowski, who was open. But the real miss on that play was Aaron Hernandez wide open on the back side for what should have been a big play. Brady never came off Gronkowski to the back side, which is something he usually does. That's very telling about the Giants pass rush.
• Later, he play-faked to his back and had Branch open on a deep cross. But he held the ball and waited too long to throw. Branch continued across the field and then Brady tried to fit it in and Boley tipped it and Kiwanuka picked it off. Hesitation is not something we've seen much from Brady in his career.
• Late in the first half, Brady had an easy throw to a wide-open Hernandez for what should have been a touchdown, but he overthrew him.
The first half was not one of Brady's finest. He went 13 of 18 for 133 yards and a pick. His passer rating was 66.6.
As Fewell walked to the bus in San Francisco late last Sunday night after the Giants advanced to play the Patriots again, I asked him about that defense.
"Hey, I can't tell you," he said laughing. "We have to play them again."
Will they use it again? I bet they do. But you can bet Fewell will come up with some new wrinkles off it.
He had better. You can fool Tom Brady once. You don't get him a second time.
Film Study (Other things I learned from watching that tape)
1. The Patriots opened the first meeting with the Giants by trying to run the ball. Sebastian Vollmer was the right tackle then, so they brought Nate Solder in as an extra blocker. He would line up next to the tackle on either side to help the run game. It didn't help. The Patriots had trouble running it for much of the game. In watching the tape, it appeared that center Dan Connolly had problems getting push, especially when a player was lined up on his nose. Chris Canty abused him on one running play. If the Patriots are to run this time, they better improve the push inside. Solder did go out for a pass on one play as the extra tight end, but Grant blanketed him in man coverage. Don't forget, Solder was a tight end early in his college career at Colorado. Solder is now the starting right tackle with Vollmer out with an injury.
2. The 49ers have two good run-support safeties in Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. But they aren't great in coverage, and the Giants took advantage of that some in the middle of the field last week. I think they will try to do the same to New England's safeties, who struggle in coverage as well. Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo really aren't great in coverage. The Giants opened the last game with Eli Manning hitting Mario Manningham for 14 yards right in front of Chung. Manning also hit Jake Ballard in between the safeties for a 31-yard gain in the second half to set up a field goal.
3. In the first meeting, the New York offensive line was different than what we will see in the Super Bowl. Kevin Boothe was at center, with David Diehl at left guard and William Beatty at left tackle. In the Super Bowl, it will be Boothe at left guard, Diehl at left tackle and David Baas at center. Beatty had problems with Andre Carter in the first game, and was lost for the season with a detached retina shortly after that game. Carter is out for the season after tearing a quad muscle, which is a big hit to the Patriots pass rush. He was good against the Giants in the first meeting.
4. The Patriots played mostly a four-man front in the first meeting, rarely blitzing Manning. I would imagine they would come after him more, especially after what the 49ers did to him with their blitzes last week.
5. When Brandon Jacobs ran in for a 10-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, he did so because of a great block by Diehl. He turned his man and created a huge hole. That man? Albert Haynesworth, who was cut two weeks later.
6. The Giants were without running back Ahmad Bradshaw and receiver Hakeem Nicks in the first game. The Patriots played more man that day, and Manningham and Ramses Barden had a tough time winning. They caught five passes for 65 yards. That forced Manning to go to Ballard, who had four catches for 67 yards and the game-winning touchdown. With Nicks back in the lineup, look for the Patriots to change the way they play in the secondary. Nicks is too dangerous down the field against the New England corners.
Three best Super Bowl host cities
- New Orleans -- It should be there every year.
- Miami -- Weather, baby. Weather. Oh, and a lot to do.
- Tampa -- I like when everything is downtown. Oh, and the weather.
Three worst Super Bowl host cities
- Jacksonville -- I live there. I love it. But it wasn't ready for it.
- Detroit -- It's too damn cold.
- Los Angeles -- Too spread out and too much traffic.
Three things I hate about Super Bowl media day
- Eight-year-old kids sent by some late-night comedian to ask questions.
- Guys with a gimmick. Captain Idiot in a cape?
- Question of the week: How's it feel to be here?
Tweets at me
1. @Surprise_Island: @PriscoCBS Eli borrowed his big brother's pants for the day
2. @81timbrownfan: @PriscoCBS niners should be embarrased at that niner fan making death threats to kyle williams and his wife and kids on twitter
3. @Michael_Necci: I'm following @PriscoCBS because he seems like a cynical bastard, & since I'm one myself...I'll enjoy his work