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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Are the Giants in Brady's head? 'The Flinch' would suggest they are

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Brady's yards per attempt in his last two games against the Giants is a measly 5.5. (Getty Images)  
Brady's yards per attempt in his last two games against the Giants is a measly 5.5. (Getty Images)  

INDIANAPOLIS -- This is going to sound crazy, and it might make me look dumb come late Sunday night, but here goes: The New York Giants defensive line is in Tom Brady's head.

It's hard to imagine a quarterback as great as Brady having anyone or any team inside his head, but that's the feeling I get after watching him and his New England Patriots play the Giants in Week 9 this season and in the Super Bowl the previous time they met.

How else can we explain "The Flinch?"

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I mentioned "The Flinch" last week in my After Further Review column here, but I think it's about to take on a life of its own. There is a lot of talk about it leading up to Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI between the Giants and Patriots.

Players are being asked about it. Giants coaches don't want to talk about it.

But it's real.

The Giants made Tom Brady flinch. I watched it again here this week just to make sure it happened. And it certainly did.

Here's the scenario:

The score in that game, which was won by the Giants, was 0-0 at the half. On the Patriots' first play from scrimmage, the Giants made Brady flinch. This came after a half in which Brady struggled, was sacked once and hurried a bunch. He was also picked off once.

On "The Flinch," the Patriots had first-and-10 from their own 21. Brady put Hernandez in motion from right to left and Hernandez settled outside Rob Gronkowski, who was in-line on the left. There was one back behind Brady, with two receivers to his right, Wes Welker in the slot inside of Chad Ochocinco.

The Giants showed blitz with linebackers Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley in the "A" and "B" gaps, but rushed only four at the snap as the two linebackers dropped out. Brady took the snap from center, pivoted to his left to play to Benjarvus Green-Ellis. As he snapped his head around to scan the field, he had Linval Joseph trying to bull rush center Dan Connolly in front of him.

It's at that point Brady must feel that Joseph is bearing down on him, because that's when he flinches in the pocket, as if to duck from an approaching defender. To his credit, Brady popped back up and found Hernandez crossing the field, but threw behind him. Hernandez made a great play to catch it for a 15-yard gain, hiding the fact that Brady flinched.

It's hidden no more.

"The Flinch" has come to life.

Some of the Giants players and coaches I talked to didn't remember "The Flinch," but others said they didn't with a sly smile on their face, almost as if to say, "Don't tug on Superman's cape."

Coaches say they noticed "The Flinch" on tape.

That has the Giants defenders smelling blood coming into Sunday's game.

"Anybody can be rattled," Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but at the end of the day, he is just a quarterback. It is not like he is God."

Certainly not when he plays the Giants. In the past two games against the Giants, he has three touchdown passes, two interceptions and has been sacked seven times.

But the most telling stat of all is yards per attempt in those two games. It's only 5.5. That's significant when you consider Brady's career average is 7.5 and his lowest in the past four seasons he has been healthy is 7.8.

What that means is Brady has had a tendency to check the ball down to shorter routes against the Giants, rather than waiting for the big plays to develop.

That's what happens when a team can get to the quarterback.

"It wouldn't be the Super Bowl if they weren't talking about coming to knock me down and trying to knock me out," Brady said. "That's what I expect, and you know what, our offensive line gets paid to keep those guys out of there. This team [Giants] has a very good pass rush. They can get to the quarterback. They can hit the quarterback. They can force the quarterback into some bad decisions and some bad throws. We're going to try to eliminate those. We really can't afford too many of those on Sunday. We had too many of those the last time we played them, and we're not going to be able to win the game making mistakes."

No Giants player I talked to said they felt they were in Brady's head. But you could tell they thought they had a good start on getting inside there.

"The fact of the matter is if you get to the quarterback enough, if you hit him hard enough, it's going to make him less effective," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "That is our job up front and that's what we have to do. Really [pressure] effects every phase of the game, because now you've got receivers that might not be sure about their routes because they are not sure if the ball is going to have to come out quicker, and it just throws the whole timing off."

Is this Giants defensive line in Tom Brady's head? It sure seems that way.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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