Patriots Are Perfect No More

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The New England Patriots don't deserve perfection. They deserve exactly what they got Sunday evening: a Super Bowl loss that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

You only get one chance at 19-0. One. To think the 2008 version of the Patriots is going to duplicate what these 2007 Patriots did is sillier than that ad with Danica Patrick.

Perfection has too many moving parts. Too much luck required. No, this was it for them.

The Patriots' season is history, but not historic. They didn't choke, but they definitely suffered from a lack of oxygen. Pinching the air tube shut was a New York Giants team with just enough nerve, just enough composure to leave this Jiffy Pop-looking stadium with a 17-14 win and the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Anybody who tells you this was the greatest Super Bowl upset of all time has it wrong. But it was the greatest missed opportunity in NFL history.

"We conquered the regular season," said Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel. "We conquered the playoffs. What does it mean if you don't win the Super Bowl? It doesn't mean anything."

Eighteen-and-one means something. It means exactly what New England defensive end Richard Seymour said it does: "That you didn't win the Super Bowl. You don't get no trophy for second."

The Patriots won't be forgotten like most Super Bowl losers. They'll be remembered as the team that couldn't handle its own expectations, to say nothing of the Giants' pass rush.

"They were inviting us to their parties after the game," said Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer. "They showed us no respect."

If that's true, then the Patriots are dumber than ever thought possible. It's bad enough they couldn't block, couldn't run, couldn't throw, couldn't catch, couldn't tackle and couldn't even try a 49-yard field goal when it counted. But to treat the Giants as though their defeat was a foregone conclusion was football suicide.

I thought the Patriots were going to win. The Patriots thought they were going to win. Now they just hope Archie and Olivia Manning don't plan to have any more sons. Last year, it was Peyton who ended their season. This year, it was Eli. Both became Super Bowl MVPs.

David Cutcliffe, Eli's coach at Ole Miss, called this one earlier in the week. Said he had "no doubt" the Giants were going to win. What he also said -- but asked that it not be printed before the game -- is that he had talked to Eli a day or two earlier.

"You know what I liked best?" Cutcliffe said. "He sounded hungry."

"He thinks they're going to win?" I said.

"Absolutely," Cutcliffe said.

Manning made the plays that the formerly amazing Tom Brady had made all season for the Patriots. Brady wasn't awful (29-of-48 for 266 yards and one touchdown), but he wasn't Tom Terrific. More like Tom OK. Tom Pretty Decent.

Perfection demands more than OK. It demands moments of brilliance.

Manning had his moment on a third-and-5 from the Giants' 44 with 75 seconds left and New York trailing by four. He somehow muscled his way out of a sure sack and found wide receiver David Tyree for a 32-yard gain. Four plays later, he laid the ball in Plaxico Burress' hands for the winning touchdown. Burress wasn't open by more than, oh, 5 yards.

"The fact is when we needed to make plays, we were unable to do it," said New England linebacker Junior Seau.

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