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What inspired Steve Spagnuolo's defense vs. Tom Brady in SBXLII?

Posted May 19, 2015

Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo discusses the team's mindset leading up to Super Bowl XLII

It was Saturday night.

It was Giants Stadium. 

It was the 15-0 New England Patriots looking to put the finishing touches on a perfect 2007 campaign.

The New York Giants, who were already guaranteed a playoff game the following weekend, wouldn’t go down without a fight and took a lead into the fourth quarter. But they were eventually overtaken in a three-point loss to the Patriots, who became the first NFL team since the 1972 Dolphins to win every game in the regular season.

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"It was kind of a strange game,” New England quarterback Tom Brady said at the time. “It really doesn't mean much to either team, but it means a lot.”

Those words rang true.

Regarded as the precursor for their meeting in Super Bowl XLII a little more than a month later, the regular-season finale provided a blueprint for the Giants should the two teams meet again.

It took one conversation between defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and a former Giants defensive end to put the wheels in motion.

“We were walking off of the field after the game, and it was Justin Tuck, as we walked through the end zone of Giants Stadium, he said, 'Coach, if we get the chance to play those guys again, let’s just line up our top four guys and let us get after Brady,’” Spagnuolo, who is beginning his second stint as defensive coordinator of the Giants, said recently during a Philadelphia radio interview with 97.5 FM The Fanatic.

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“In other words, they were convinced at that point, because it was a real close game, even though the score was very high, both teams played pretty good, they just felt like they had a lot of confidence and they could move that offensive line and put some pressure on Brady. And that helped going forward a month later when we played them in the Super Bowl.” 

Of course, the Giants went on to spoil the Patriots’ bid for perfection in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls of all time. In that game, the Giants sacked Brady five times, two of which came from Tuck in the 17-14 victory.

But what happened in between the two meetings with New England cannot be forgotten either.

The postseason run began on the road in Tampa Bay. 
“One of the scariest games in that run for me was going down to Tampa,” Spagnuolo said. “It was really hot. We played the Patriots the week before. We had a couple guys get injured. We had already clinched. Most teams, to coach [Tom] Coughlin’s credit, we went after that game to win it, and we lost a couple guys in the process. And the heat down there I thought would really get to us. But our guys, they rose up to win that game.”

Then it was off to Dallas and freezing Green Bay, homes of two NFC powers that had beaten Big Blue earlier in the season.

“Dallas during the season had beat us twice,” Spagnuolo continued. “Green Bay had beaten us earlier in the year, and the Patriots had beaten us in the last game of the season. So I guess sometimes you learn a lot more from defeat and adversity than you do from winning. Certainly our guys took all the knowledge from playing those teams.”

About the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field, Spagnuolo recalled one thing: “It was cold, cold, cold. I normally don’t wear a hat, but I wore one of those stocking hats because it was so cold. And when I took it off at the end of the game, my ears froze in like five seconds. I said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here and get in the locker room.’”

But there would be plenty of time to warm up at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale Ariz., site of Super Bowl XLII.

Now eight years later and for the first time back on the Giants’ sideline, Spagnuolo will see the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots in Week 10 at MetLife Stadium.