- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Every step Tom Brady takes now brings a new accolade. The New England Patriots quarterback is making a case as the best ever to play the game. When he faces the New York Giants on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis, it'll be his fifth appearance as a Super Bowl quarterback, tying John Elway for the most ever. If he wins, it'll be his fourth Super Bowl title, tying Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for the most ever. Those are Mount Rushmore quarterbacks, and the presence of Brady's name among them marks him as not just great but all-time great. If the Giants were intimidated, it'd be hard to blame them.
But they aren't, of course, and the main reason is their first-hand knowledge that Brady is beatable. They know this because they have done the beating. They beat him four years ago in Super Bowl XLII, when Brady and his Patriots were 18-0 and hadn't looked beatable all year. They beat him in Week 9 of this season, up in Foxborough, where no other team has beaten him in the regular season since 2006. Brady and the Patriots have won 10 games in a row since that one, which makes you wonder if the Giants have some sort of secret formula.
They say they do not.
"Every time you play against Tom, you have to go to the drawing board," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said Tuesday. "He's definitely going to look at what we had success against him with the first time and come out with something to beat that. You have to do something different."
Perhaps. But there are certain basic elements of what the Giants do that have caused Brady problems in those two most recent meetings. In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants sacked Brady five times. Only once in his career has he been sacked more. In this year's Week 9 game, they got just two sacks, but the pressure they put on him led to two interceptions and a fumble. The Giants rely on their four down linemen to generate their pass rush, and Brady was a little bit less effective this year against defenses that dropped at least seven men into coverage. He averaged 8.1 yards per attempt in such situations as opposed to 9.9 when defenses rushed at least five.
Little of that matters, though, once the defense gets on the field and finds itself tasked with actually stopping Brady.
"He's tough, man," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. "When I'm in zone coverage, I can just see him scanning the field and I'm like, 'Dang!' The way he scans the field, he's so good at it and so quick, it kind of stuns you for a second. He's an exceptional quarterback, man, and he gets all of the credit he deserves and then some."
But the Giants' healthy respect for Brady's abilities is part of the reason they've had success against him. Rather than relax and get comfortable in the knowledge that they've beaten him before, they remember how difficult it was, and their resolve and concentration intensify.
"We're going to have to have a few game plans in, and it's going to be a chess match," Tuck said. "I think every quarter, we'll have to throw something at him that he hasn't seen, or something we hope he hasn't seen from us, just to try to slow down his reads. Because if he gets a sense of what you want to do to him before he snaps the ball, it's pretty much impossible to stop him."
In the end, though, the Giants know it's not. And as they prepare to face Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl, that's one of their psychological advantages. They know he's great, and they know what he can do to a defense when he's on his game. But they also know that they have the ability to get him off of his game.
"He thrives on mismatches, and I think we match up well with them," Tuck said. "The people we have in our secondary, we have safeties that play like corners. They're going to do some things that we may not be ready for at the beginning of the game, and hopefully we'll be able to make those adjustments and keep them kind of stopped on offense."
Humble enough to know that "kind of stopped" is the best they can do against Brady, the Giants take comfort in knowing they can pull it off. They've done it in the Super Bowl. They've done it at his home stadium. If they've done it before, they can do it again. And when you're playing Tom Brady at this time of the year, the knowledge that it's even possible to beat him is no small thing.