- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: The Giants indeed have the Patriots' number. New York cost New England another shot at winning a fourth Super Bowl. New York has beaten the Patriots three times in a row, dating back to Super Bowl XLII. This also ruined the chance for quarterback Tom Brady to tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most Super Bowl victories by a starting quarterback. The Patriots were good enough to be the best team in the AFC, but they have to make some improvements and upgrades on their roster, particularly defensively, to win it all.
Defense can't hold: The Patriots' defense had a chance to hold a two-point lead with fewer than four minutes remaining. But the Giants drove 88 yards, capped by a game-winning touchdown by tailback Ahmad Bradshaw. Eli Manning completed a great, 38-yard pass to receiver Mario Manningham on the sideline to get the drive started. New England's defense played hard, but it's not an elite group that can close out games. That's something the Patriots have to improve in the offseason if they want to be a championship team.
Sloppy start: The Patriots were their own worst enemies to start the game. New England was uncharacteristically sloppy to start. Brady’s first pass was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, which led to a safety. The Patriots also had 12 men on the field on defense, which negated a fumble and eventually led to a Giants touchdown. But the Patriots fought back and took a 10-9 lead at intermission.
Brady bouncing back: The Patriots didn't win the game, but it wasn't because of Brady. You knew Brady wasn't going to have back-to-back bad games. He promised Patriots owner Robert Kraft as much. Although the start wasn't what he envisioned, Brady got hot in the second and third quarters and reeled off 16 straight completions in the second and third quarters. He finished 27-of-41 for 276 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He had a 91.1 passer rating. A key missed connection with Patriots receiver Wes Welker late in the fourth quarter might have sealed the game, but Welker failed to make a challenging catch.
What’s next: That’s it for the 2011-12 season. It turns out the Patriots were the second-best team in the NFL this season. What's next for New England and every other team is preparing for free agency and the NFL draft. Every team, including the Patriots, has holes to address. New England has plenty of cap room and high draft picks to improve the team. It will be a busy offseason in the division, so keep it locked on the AFC East blog for constant news, updates and analysis.