|The Giants committed just one turnover, while creating six, in four playoff games last season. (US Presswire)|
It's no secret why the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLVI. They had the best four-man rush in the playoffs, and great pass rushers trump great quarterbacks. But there was another element involved that often gets overlooked because it's ... well, because it's so damned basic.
And that is this: They didn't screw up.
Yep, it's as simple as that. Their playoff run included no fumbles and only one Eli Manning interception, and you can look it up: The Giants committed one turnover; their opponents committed seven. Result: Their second Super Bowl victory in five years, only this one for a team that barely finished the regular season above .500.
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There's a message there for Lombardi Trophy aspirants, and listen up, people: If you want to board the Super Bowl bandwagon, play follow the leader and get on top of the turnover/takeaway differential. I know that's not exactly news, but it gets lost in our rush to canonize the next 5,000-yard quarterback.
In winning Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants not only proved that defense still matters; they demonstrated that ball security does, too, and the proof was in what happened to running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
He stopped fumbling.
In 2010, Bradshaw dropped the ball seven times as the Giants piled up an NFL-high 42 turnovers and missed the playoffs for the second straight season. A year later, he fumbled once, and the Giants slashed their mistakes to 24.
A big deal? Well, as a matter of fact, yes. Because it was Bradshaw who nearly lost the football in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter in the Giants' overtime defeat of San Francisco in the NFC championship game. If Bradshaw fumbles, the Giants lose. But he didn't ... or, at least, officials said he didn't.
So the Giants go on to win another Super Bowl, and, yeah, it's easy to connect the dots. The team's ability to hold on to the ball -- as well as opposing quarterbacks -- pushed them to where few believed they could go, and if this sounds familiar it should. It's what happened with the Giants and Tiki Barber in 2005-06.
Granted, the Giants didn't win a Super Bowl in Barber's last season. But had they not reached the playoffs, coach Tom Coughlin was going to get fired. They managed by the slimmest of margins, squeaking in at the last minute to qualify as an 8-8 wild card, and credit Barber -- who not only cleaned up his fumbling but produced a club-record 234 yards rushing in the season finale -- for helping to get them there.
"We used that as an example," said Bradshaw. "Tiki was a great back, and he became greater after he held on to the ball. So that was my focus, just to get better at that, because I was kinda disappointed in myself."
I get that. What I don't get is how somehow goes from a fumbler to a glue stick overnight. So Coughlin explained it to me, saying Bradshaw was so determined "not to have that reputation" as a fumbler that he studied videotapes of every turnover he committed in 2010. Then, like Barber, he changed his grip.
"We just worked on [holding it] high and tight a whole lot more," said Bradshaw. "Just not relaxing as much. I'm kind of an extra-effort back, trying to make the extra yards, but [they told me to] just get what you can get and try to protect yourself. And that's what I did.
"When I did make that extra effort I just [tried to hold the ball] high and tight. The main focus for me is the triceps and forearm muscle and keeping three points on the ball. And that's what I try to do every time I touch the ball."
It's a good idea. Look what happened to San Francisco when it cleaned up its mistakes in 2011: It tied a league record for fewest turnovers with 10 and went to the conference championship game after failing to produce a winning season the previous eight years.
Coughlin gives Bradshaw credit for wanting to be better, then doing something about it, but let's not forget the man who pushed him. It was Coughlin who turned Barber around, and it's Coughlin who continues to emphasize ball security to all his backs ... including one in particular.
"He stressed it so much it was always in the back of my head," said Bradshaw. "Now it's something I don't do anymore."
Keep that in mind as the Giants open their Super Bowl defense Wednesday night. They want to run the ball better this season than they did ... or didn't ... in 2011 when they ranked last in the league, and Bradshaw is the key guy there. Without Brandon Jacobs, he's the primary back, and the Giants are counting on him --- not only to carry the football but to keep it, too.
It made a difference last season. It could again.