3 Quick-Reaction Keys for the Patriots in the Super Bowl

OK, so the Patriots have made the Super Bowl.  No time to rest, less than 2 weeks now until the big game.  As Gronk said after the Ravens game, it is time for "the 'ship" (and, yes, I wasn't sure if he was referring to "the mother ship" at first before realizing he meant "championship")  and there is no time to waste in preparation. Forget 2007 and Super Bowl XLII (FYI, I hate these Roman Numerals), these are two different teams. Doing my part for the cause, I have identified three keys for the Patriots for Super Bowl XLVI:

1. Tom Brady Bounce-back:  
Tom Brady said it best. He sucked. Again, it was the turnovers. A couple of times trying to do too much, too quick. While I appreciate and encourage the offense to take their shots down-field, good defenses will make their plays be it picks, negative plays, or pressure and hits.  Hey, it's why they are good.  I hope everyone enjoyed the nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, defensive slug-fest with short bursts of big offensive plays thrown in.  Looks like this Super Bowl could mirror these Championship Games where a small mistake can change the entire game. 

Brady threw two picks and a fumble after getting hit in the pocket against the Giants in week nine.  Remember, that game was zero-zero at half-time and all the scoring took place in the second half. Brady is going to be thinking about those and how to remain aggressive and at the same time eliminate those mistakes.  Brady finished with 342 yards passing, so  remember that the offense got in rhythm and moved the ball on the Giants defense.  Another game like that minus the slow start and turn-overs makes for a whole different game.

2. Rob Gronkowski's Ankle: 
This will be the most talked about/photographed/observed ankle in New England for the next two weeks (seems like a set-up for a joke about Victorian-era fashion and moral...let's not touch that with a ten foot pole).  The fact that Gronk got up and hopped off the field gave hope. The fact he got back in the game was inspiring.  How it holds up is the next question.  

Since Ed Reed of the Ravens had an injury that looked as bad or worse against Houston and was back with no ill effects evident against New England makes one think that two weeks is plenty for Gronk to get healthy.  With Gronk and Hernandez, the Patriots offense is able to click at full speed and be at its most dangerous in the Red Zone, and that will be desperately needed.

3. Offensive Line Play versus the New York Giant's Defensive Front:
What killed the Patriots' offense in Super Bowl 42 (Twelve days to the Super Bowl and I am officially swearing off Roman Numerals)? The Giants pressured Brady without blitzing and covered up Wes Welker, Dante Stallworth, and Randy Moss. In week nine, it was more of the same as the Patriots offense made some plays, but was far from clicking on all gears.  But the Giants did not pressure Brady like he had been that day. The Giants made big plays on defense, only sacked Brady twice, but at the end of the game, the offense took advantage of the Patriots defense.

That said, Brady's pick on the first play of the second quarter came with a clean pocket and no pressure, and then the second pick at the start of the third quarter he tried to squeeze it to Gronk on 3rd and 3 and had it picked with a clean pocket to throw from again. Neither time was there pressure or was Brady in duress in any way.  These were both mistakes that he should not make, and credit to Giants defense for making good plays on those and the two Patriot fumbles as well. Add in a missed "gimme" field goal and the Patriots have a lot of "should haves " to look at on film this week.

Also, don't forget the Patriots were giving snaps to Chad Ochocinco on offense and the defense was a mess in the secondary. The offensive line did alright, and needs to do better on the big stage, though.

A COUPLE BONUS KEYS (Always got a few extra keys on the key-chain, right?): 

4. Slowing down Eli Manning and Victor Cruz:
This is no Tim Tebow or even Joe Flacco the Patriots face in the Super Bowl.  Bill Belichick had better make a trip up the Mass Pike to Amherst and get the scoop on UMass alumni Victor Cruz because he makes big plays.  

5. Giants Tight End Jake Ballad
Ballard shredded the Patriots in the week nine Giants win, as all the tight ends around the league seemingly have big games against New England this season.  Four receptions for 67 yards and a TD, but the feeling seemed to be that he was open all game. Shore up the middle of the field, linebackers!