During the pre-Super Bowl media swirl, Michael Strahan admitted to a wish – to get close enough to Tom Brady that the only thing that separated them “was a facemask.”
Strahan, Justin Tuck and the rest of the New York Giants’ defensive line got closer than that Sunday, harassing Brady and controlling the line of scrimmage, the determining factor in turning New England’s record-setting offense downright pedestrian.
Tuck had two of the Giants’ five sacks and Strahan had another against an offensive line that had given up only 21 sacks in 16 regular-season games and an additional three in the playoffs.
“We’re an old-school defensive football team,” said Tuck, who lined up at right tackle and was effective rushing right up the middle.
“Hit you in the mouth. That’s what you saw today.”
The Giants led the NFL with 57 sacks in the regular season, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, believed to be a candidate for the Washington Redskins’ job, added some inside rush packages Sunday, scrapping most of the outside schemes the Giants had used in a 38-35 loss to the Patriots in the final week of the regular season.
“We felt we could do that,” Strahan said of pressuring Brady.
“We’ve done it all year. We led the league in sacks, we do it in the playoffs, and supposedly when we get against the Patriots, we’re supposed to not be able to pass rush? That’s what we do.”
Tuck sacked Brady twice and Kawika Mitchell sacked him once in the second quarter, Tuck’s final sack forcing a fumble the Giants recovered to stop a drive at New York's 44-yard line.
“We had a few conversations out there,” Tuck said. “A couple of times he told me to slow down. A couple of times I told him to hold the ball longer.
“There were a lot of variables today. The last time we played, every time I was (standing) up, most of the blitzes came from my side and I was going. This time we kind of moved it around, and that threw them off.
“A lot of times it was Osi (defensive end Omenyiora) and me one-on-one. I don’t know how well that worked out for them.”
Strahan’s sack may have been the biggest difference-maker. Facing third-and seven from the Giants’ 25-yard line, Strahan hit Brady for a six-yard loss, bringing up fourth down and a potential 48-yard field goal attempt. The Pats went for it, however, and a harried Brady threw a harmless incompletion.
“I have to give credit to the four guys up front. We hung our hat on those guys all year long and we did it again,” Spagnuolo said.
Rookie Jay Alford got the Giants’ final sack, dumping Brady with 19 seconds remaining.
“That sack with a few seconds left … Brady just looked like he turned it down,” Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer said. “He didn’t want any of it.
“I think their offensive line was not prepared for what our defensive line had to offer. Those guys are unbelievable.”