Playoff experience doesn't guarantee Super Bowl success

Douglas Flynn

On paper, the Patriots have the advantage over the Giants in almost every significant personnel matchup.

The Pats boast the league MVP in Tom Brady, coming off arguably the greatest season a quarterback has ever had in the NFL. They’ve got Randy Moss and his record 23 TDs, Wes Welker and his 112 catches, a dominant defensive front led by Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren and the list goes on.

But football games aren’t played on paper, and the “better” team doesn’t always win. Just ask the three higher seeds from the NFC bracket that will be watching the Super Bowl at home thanks to the upstart Giants.

The Patriots don’t plan on being the fourth team to feel the sting of a New York upset, and avoiding such a fate might just come down to a couple of key intangibles -- the Giants’ soaring confidence vs. New England’s wealth of Super Bowl experience.

“You know what to expect, what to look for,” said Pats safety Rodney Harrison, a 14-year veteran who played on New England’s championship squads in 2003 and 2004, of the value of postseason experience.

Still, Harrison knows the Pats can’t just flash their Super Bowl rings and expect the Giants to roll over.

“But at the same time, if you don’t go out there and prepare properly and get it done on the field, what is experience?” asked Harrison. “It’s something in the past. It’s something that we definitely have, but we still have to go out there and play well.”

Bill Belichick, who can sport a ring on every finger with two titles as an assistant with the Giants and three as New England’s head coach, is also cautious about putting too much stock in his club’s experience in the Roman numeral classic.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with experience,” Belichick said. “I don’t think that’s a negative, but I don’t think it really does anything either. I think the team that plays the best is the team that’s going to win.”

These Giants are a bit like the 2001 Pats, who went into the 2001 Super Bowl with less playoff experience than the rams. New England didn’t have many players that had been through the playoff wars before that season, but the guys they did have gained confidence with each round they advanced before stunning the heavily favored Rams.

Now the roles have reversed, with New England a 12-point favorite wary of a scrappy Giants team that already gave the Pats all it could handle at the end of the regular season. The Patriots rallied for a 38-35 win that night, completing a perfect 16-0 regular season. But they know completing the ultimate perfect season against New York will be even tougher.

The Giants have just four players who have been to a Super Bowl. Michael Strahan and Amani Toomer played for New York in the loss to Baltimore after the 2000 season, while Grey Ruegamer won a ring as a reserve offensive lineman with the Pats in 2001 and Jerome Collins was with Indianapolis last year, albeit on injured reserve for the playoffs. But they’re plenty battle-tested after winning three straight playoff games on the road since falling short against the Pats.   

“Even though we just played them a month ago, I think that they’ve certainly improved dramatically as a football team,” Belichick said.

It was that last Pats game that helped the Giants turn the corner, as staying with the unbeaten juggernaut gave New York the confidence it could play with anyone. Wins in Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay only furthered that belief, and the Giants head into the Super Bowl unfazed by New England’s gaudy record.

“We did play well,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin of that Patriots game. “We played hard. And as I said, there were only positives taken out of the game. There was nothing negative. We got a couple of guys nicked, but that happens at this level. We took from the game the fact that we had played hard and at one point had an opportunity to have a lead. And for four quarters it was a real competitive game.”

Despite what the Vegas odds-makers are saying, the rematch might be even more competitive.

“They’re a different team from a month ago,” Harrison said. “They’re entering this game with a lot of confidence, so we’ll see what happens.”

Just as he wasn’t willing to put too much faith in his own club’s experience overcoming execution, Belichick was also cautious about crediting too much of the Giants’ success to their increased confidence.

“I’m sure confidence is a part of it,” he said. “I think playing good football is a bigger part of it.”

Since the opening week of the season, no one has played better football than the Pats. Eighteen teams have felt their wrath already, and the Patriots should feel confident that the Giants will get to experience being No. 19.

Douglas Flynn covers the Patriots for the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-4405 or