INDIANAPOLIS — Four years ago, Justin Tuck's performance in Super Bowl XLII defined the New York Giants' 17-14 win. Tuck was nearly unstoppable — he picked up two sacks, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble in that game. But the impact he made was as much about the plays that didn't show up in the stat sheet — Tuck was a constant presence in Tom Brady's face, making it very difficult for one of the game's greatest to do his thing. On Monday, Tuck talked about what it takes to rattle Tom Terrific and throw him off his game.
"I think it starts with hitting him, even when you don't actually get sacks, just keeping people around him so he can't step up. I think he gets a little frustrated when he has to go to his second or third receivers. You can kind of confuse him sometimes with our coverage. I think there are a lot of things that can get him rattled, but it just seems like not too many people are able to do that."
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Brady is known as one of the game's better progression readers, but it's true that a lot of the Patriots' passing game is built around the quick out reads in hurry-up sets, and that's even more true now than it was in Super Bowl XLII — after all, there's no Randy Moss to catch the 9-route 30 yards downfield anymore. With their new fast-break offense, built as it is around slot receivers and tight ends, that offense is even more about timing. And upsetting it is absolutely about throwing Brady and his receivers out of whack.
"We had a lot of hits on him," Tuck said of that last Super meeting. "Even when we didn't hit him, he didn't have the time to sit back there and allow some of the routes to develop. We know that as a D-line, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure that we are in his face. He is a hell of a quarterback, and he is going to do a lot of things to throw us off our rhythm. I really expect them to use their screen game, quick throws to kind of get us out of rhythm early. You are going to get your shots because they are an explosive offense and they like to take shots downfield, too. We are going to have our chances, and we just are going to have to do a great job of taking advantage of them."
Tuck has been hurt this season — he's been affected by neck, groin and toe injuries — but he's unquestionably ready to try to wreak the same sort of havoc he did at an MVP level the last time he played the most important game of his life. When asked about the uptick in performance from the Giants' defensive line in recent games, Tuck pointed to health as the key factor. Just as they did in 2007, the Giants can rotate into several different fronts.
"We've been a little healthier. We have played more games with each other. JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] has had a great year all year long. Me and Osi [Umenyiora] have kind of battled with injuries and never really got in sync, I guess. But, these last couple of weeks, we have had the opportunity to play with each other. I think chemistry is very important to the play of four down-linemen. That '07 year, we played the whole year with each other, and we just knew how to play off each other.
"I think a lot of times this season we've kind of got in each other's way … you just didn't know how guys were going to play off of certain looks. But, the last couple of weeks, it just seems like all that has started to go our way."
Just at the right time, and this could be bad news for Tom Brady … once again.
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