FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran Brian Waters had an unusual vantage point to analyze what happened to the New England Patriots' offensive line in Super Bowl XLII. He was in the stands, attending his first NFL game as a spectator.
Waters was a guest of commissioner Roger Goodell as one of the finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which he'd end up winning the following year. What he saw that day -- a New York Giants defensive line that dominated and controlled the line of scrimmage -- has looked familiar to what he's seen in recent days.
The 34-year-old Waters, in his first season as the Patriots' starting right guard, knows a Super-sized challenge awaits the Patriots' offensive line in Sunday's matchup against the Giants.
"Defensively, compared to now, not much has changed [since that Super Bowl]," Waters said Friday. "They depend a lot on their defensive line, because they have a great group up front."
Just as it was in Super Bowl XLII, this is the game within Sunday's game. Will the Giants' defensive line create a tidal wave of pressure that paralyzes the Patriots' offense, or will the Patriots' big guys up front do what they couldn't the last time these teams met in a game that mattered by holding their ground?
The two active Patriots linemen who played in that game, left tackle Matt Light and left guard Logan Mankins, weren't interested in reflecting on that painful memory this week. They were noticeably absent over the four days that reporters had access to the locker room.
Light, however, did make his weekly appearance on sports radio WEEI on Friday, and Super Bowl XLII was broached.
"Did that happen? I'm not sure what you're talking about," cracked the generally light-hearted Light, who did what many New Englanders have since Feb. 3, 2008 -- erase that day from their memory.
When it was mentioned that a DVD of the game could be delivered to him, Light wasn't interested in providing his mailing address.
"No, no, please don't. It's probably not something any of us want to watch again," he said. "It was tough, man. You don't ever want to be in that position, I'll tell you that much.
"It was just a horrible day, and evening, and on top of that you can't put on any station anywhere -- I don't care if you're in China or the U.S., anywhere in the world, you're going to see [the Giants] celebrating. It was difficult."
Light previously said the offensive line picked the wrong time to have its worst day. At the same time, that's what the Giants, who currently lead the NFL with 26 sacks, can do to an opponent. They are unique in that they can generate pressure with the standard four rushers, giving them seven players to drop into coverage. It's part of their identity.
Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck remain pass-rush difference-makers for the Giants, just as they were in Super Bowl XLII. Meanwhile, second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (8.5 sacks) has athleticism that coach Bill Belichick compared to that of Julius Peppers this week, while Linval Joseph (second year), Dave Tollefson (fifth year), Chris Canty (seventh year) and Rocky Bernard (10th year) are also contributors on a deep line. Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka (sixth year) is also a factor in the rush.
"They're all different in the way they go about getting the job done, and that's what makes it more difficult for us as linemen because every time you have a different guy coming, you have to attack him differently," Waters said.
"They do everything. They mix in the pressures but they're a good enough group to get it on their own, to just rush the four guys, and they have a number of sacks from rushing [just] three."
Coaches have stressed to Patriots blockers the importance of identifying the defensive linemen in the game, while also being prepared for scheme rushes that include overloads. They know the pressure is coming; they're just not sure who will be bringing it, and in what form. So communication among offensive linemen will be crucial Sunday.
In the WEEI interview, Light insisted that this game has little connection to the Super Bowl as "we've been out of that mode for so long now." But since the Giants' style of play remains similar, there most certainly is at least a little bit of a tie-in.
Waters, who has seamlessly transitioned to become a key member of the Patriots' line, knows the unit holds the key to the Patriots' game plan.
"The five guys up front, we're going to have to stand up to the rush and do a great job on our own," he said. "I think we should be good enough to get the job done on our own, I really do. We're going to do whatever we have to do to make sure we get out of this game protecting our quarterback."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.