- Ian O'Connor, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- For blustering their way to the big game, for carrying themselves with as much championship-round swagger as any New York team since the '86 Mets, the New York Giants might want to find a way to beat the Bradys and Belichicks on Sunday night.
If they fail to stage a Super Bowl XLII sequel in this rematch, if they make prophets of the Vegas bookies who have them placing second in Lucas Oil Stadium, the Giants will go down as contenders who talked their way out of a title.
Fair or unfair, right or wrong, history won't remember the runner-up Giants as kindly as a 7-7 team that advanced to the Super Bowl should be remembered.
On Thursday, Jason Pierre-Paul, the pass-rusher who predicted the divisional-round conquest of a 15-1 defending champ, Aaron Rodgers, decided for a second straight day to punch another heavyweight, Tom Brady, first by reaffirming his mortality ("It's not like he is God") and then by declaring Brady was seeing and fleeing ghosts and goblins in Week 9.
"Yeah, he was reacting to pressure that didn't exist," Pierre-Paul said of the Giants' 24-20 victory in November, "and he was just throwing the ball places that there wasn't a receiver there. So imagine us getting there even faster and we're actually doing our jobs and getting there and getting hits on him."
Pierre-Paul also said the phantom pressure left Brady "throwing balls on the ground and stuff." When a reporter tried starting a question by reminding JPP that he'd already said the New England Patriots quarterback isn't a god-like figure, the pass-rusher quickly interrupted and said, "He's not."
Hey, it's all good if the Giants end up parading under another ticker-tape rain, and maybe watching Madonna do another Victor Cruz salsa dance at City Hall. Everybody loves a winner, especially one that pulls a little Joe Willie Namath on the way there.
And last year's New York Jets -- no wallflowers themselves -- disrespected Brady in the lead-up to their divisional-round grudge match before rearranging his cover-boy face mask. So there is some precedence here. Belittling Brady doesn't necessarily ensure a premature postseason death.
Four years ago, Plaxico Burress and Giants co-owner Steve Tisch predicted they would go Lake Placid on the 18-0 Patriots, and Lake Placid the Giants went. But the dynamic between the two Super Bowl teams was entirely different then. No matter what the Giants said, the Patriots would confront the burdens of history and expectation.
This time around, the Giants aren't anyone's idea of a zillion-to-one shot. Eli Manning is making like Peyton, his team is loaded with explosive pass-catchers and pass-rushers, and Tom Coughlin is a popular pick -- despite the point spread -- to go 2-for-2 against Bill Belichick and to end up in Canton because of it.
"It's still us against the world," Coughlin maintained Thursday.
Nice try, but that you-against-the-world thing only works when the world is against you, too.
Brady is actually the player with the most to prove, and the Hall of Famer-to-be has already promised his owner, Bob Kraft, that he'll redeem his unworthy performance in the AFC Championship Game. Much like Derek Jeter suffered through the biblical drought between Rings No. 4 and 5, Brady would shave his head, swear off Uggs and take a vow of celibacy (well, two out of three ain't bad) to bridge the gap from Rings No. 3 and 4, tying Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
So it didn't make much sense for the Giants -- historically a reserved franchise -- to start reading straight from Rex Ryan's script.
The Giants haven't guaranteed victory in a Joe Namath/Mark Messier way (good), or even in a Rex Ryan/Patrick Ewing way (not so good), but the safety who never met a question he didn't like, Antrel Rolle, led a chorus of teammates announcing their intentions to win. Chris Canty, gentleman Giant, joined the fun by telling WNBC-TV's Bruce Beck that New Yorkers should "get ready for a parade on Tuesday."
If nothing else, it sounded better than "get ready for a baggie day on Monday."
"Let's face it," Canty said Thursday, "confidence comes from demonstrated performance. We've demonstrated to one another we can perform at a very high level and we can beat some really good football teams.
"I think there's a touch of laziness in overconfidence, guys with lapses in focus and preparation, and I definitely don't get that feel from this football team. Words are not going to win this football game on Sunday. It's not going to be won in the media, the court of public opinion, anything like that."
Then why have the Giants acted like the Jets, who still haven't appeared in a Super Bowl since man walked on the moon? Before the players' final Super Bowl media availability, why didn't Coughlin suspend his New Tom act for a little Old Tom diplomacy?
"I think he knows when to step in and say, 'Enough is enough,'" Canty said. "I don't think guys have crossed those boundaries."
Coughlin maintained that his talk-is-cheap, play-the-game dogma remained intact, and that each Giant not named Osi Umenyiora was merely fulfilling all of his media obligations and answering questions honestly, yet not dismissively of the Patriots.
Jerry Reese, GM, backed up his coach by saying the Giants were speaking confidently -- "And not disrespectfully by any stretch of the imagination" -- after weathering a brutal regular-season schedule and three rounds of the playoffs. "They're not going to have a hangdog look and say, 'Well, we might win,'" Reese said. "Guys are confident we're going to win."
But the Giants' confidence comes with a jagged edge, and Belichick and Brady are keeping tabs on every poke. When told of Canty's parade forecast, Brandon Jacobs said, "Well, that's when the parade would be, right, on Tuesday? And if anybody that plays defense feels that way, I feel that way, no question about it, because those guys at the end of the day are the ones that have to deal with Tom Brady."
An enraged Tom Brady, of course, after JPP sacked him Thursday one more time.
"If [the defense] is confident I'm with them, too," Jacobs said. "Expect a parade on Tuesday."
Jacobs claimed that the Patriots are allowed to say what they want without retribution, and that the Giants are held to a different standard. "When we say something like that," the running back said, "it's predictions and guarantees and [we're] a bunch of thugs. We don't mind that. We're going to go out and play like a bunch of [thugs] too."
Brady wasn't around to respond; his final pregame news conference was held before JPP and Jacobs said what they said. The quarterback claimed he didn't have a problem with the Giants' earlier brash talk, and that his opponents had earned the right to believe in themselves.
But at the end of a vanilla sound bite, Brady did offer his own version of a guarantee, pledging that the Patriots are "going to show up on Sunday night and give it our best."
The NFC champs would be wise to do the same. If the big-talking, big-walking Giants lose Super Bowl XLVI, history is going to hit them from the blind side.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.
Big-talking G-Men will be history's punch line if they lose Super Bowl XLVI.