Can They Be Giant Killers Again?

This column was originally posted on on Feb. 5, 2010.

With the Giants’ last game being 33 days ago against the Vikings, and their last meaningful game being 46 days ago against the Redskins, every Giant not named Eli Manning will spend Super Bowl Sunday the same way as me: watching it on CBS.

Without a horse in the race, the decision is whether to back the Colts or Saints on Sunday. Considering the Saints’ role in the demise of the 2009 Giants, the decision is a rather easy one.

When the Giants were 5-0, winning games by an average of 16 points and suggesting that the Raiders leave the AFC West for the Pac-10, they were the class of the NFL. The G-Men were being recognized the same way they had been in 2008, before Plaxico Burress’ fateful night on the town. Flying high behind one of the game’s most potent offenses and arguably the league’s best defense, the Giants had become the favorite to represent the NFC on Super Sunday nearly a third of the way through the season. A trip to the Superdome changed that.

The undefeated, but also truly untested Giants arrived in New Orleans as three-point underdogs in Week 6. They left The Big Easy with their self-esteem destroyed, their first loss on the season and their status as an elite team in jeopardy.

Before the Bayou Blowout, the Saints were trying to finish the feel-good story they began writing during the 2006 season when their magic ran out in the NFC Championship. Even after a 4-0 start to begin the season, no one was giving the Saints the credit they deserved, but a bye week and chance to prepare for the Giants changed that.

It’s likely that the injuries and incompetent backups would have caught up with the G-Men eventually, but the Saints were the first team to realize the Giants defense was overrated. The Saints exposed the holes in the Giants defense, and their season began to quickly take on water. Had the Giants and Saints met later in the season, the Giants would have been three-point underdogs … in the first quarter.

Following the 21-point loss to the Saints, the Giants didn’t win again for five weeks and had a six-week period between wins. While losing streaks of that caliber might be acceptable in Cleveland, St. Louis and Oakland, they aren’t in the Tri-state area.

The blowout had a lasting effect on the Giants, as late-game meltdowns became a Sunday ritual. A franchise built around and remembered for its strong defensive units, the Giants allowed 24 points or more in eight of their remaining 10 games. They limped to the finish line with two of the worst losses in franchise history coming in Weeks 16 and 17.

Following the loss to the Saints, Tom Sheridan became a deer in headlights when the competition was no longer the Chiefs or Raiders. His job security became a weekly discussion, and his time with the Giants led to Osi Umenyiora – the supposed face of the Giants’ defensive future – contemplating retirement rather than ever being part of a debacle like the 2009 season again.

Super Bowl XLIV is just two days away and the Giants are already over a month into their offseason. The future of the defense is now in the hands of Perry Fewell, and seemingly for the first time since their win over the Patriots, Tom Coughlin haters have remembered the call-in line to The Fan. The Giants have had to watch the division rival Cowboys put their postseason problems to rest and the Jets emerge as the city’s top team for the time being. It can all be traced back to the bayou, back in Week 6.

The Saints are 60 minutes of football away from something much bigger than Mardi Gras. They are one win away from giving their feel-good story a  fairytale ending and from pulling off the second Super Bowl upset in three years. They have made it hard not to join the Who Dat Nation for one day.

But should the lasting image of the 2009 NFL season be the visor-wearing Sean Payton embracing Jeremy Shockey? Is seeing New Orleans win its first Super Bowl enough to want Jeremy Shockey to win a Super Bowl? Is the Saints getting their Walt Disney-like win worth knowing that Jerry Reese’s trade of the disgruntled and disrespectful tight end worked out in New Orleans’ favor? No, no and no.

This Sunday should be about Peyton Manning joining an elite group of quarterbacks and adding to his case as the best to ever play the game. It should be about Bill Polian justifying the benching of his starters so we don’t have to hear about how it backfired all offseason. It should be about the Colts taking over for the Patriots as the team and face of the NFL.

Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?

The Colts.