TORONTO - In the end, talent usually wins out. Super Bowl XLVI is the latest proof.
The New York Giants appeared so much more talented than the New England Patriots, on both sides of the ball, that if the NFL suddenly revoked both franchises and held a dispersal draft, ya wonder if only a handful of Pats players would be starting next September.
By contrast, Giants draftees would be starting everywhere.
Right. Then why did I pick the Patriots to win the Super Bowl? Well, yeah, there’s that. Hmm, let’s see. How ‘bout this: It’s Monday morning as I sit down to write this, so its quarterback I can be.
My point is this. Besides Tom Brady, how many of New England’s top 22 would bump starters on the league’s other 31 teams? Probably not many.
On offence, most teams would take Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski or All-Pro guard Logan Mankins in a heartbeat over their own. And many would give tiny slot receiver Wes Welker or tackle Sebastian Vollmer a long look. The rest of the Pats offensive line is OK, but it’s hard to imagine any Pats wideouts or running backs getting so much as a backup job anywhere else.
Ditto for the Pats’ defensive backfield, whose corps is so talent-starved that smurf wideout Julian Edelman was pressed into service as a nickelback at times late in the season, and in the playoffs. Other than defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and perhaps linebacker Brandon Spikes and safety Patrick Chung, who else from the Pats’ D would you want?
Coaching can take you only so far — and, hey, one minute from winning the Super Bowl is pretty damn far. Probably coach Bill Belichick and his staff have wrung out every drop of talent from their roster.
But 18 undrafted free agents on a team of 53? That’s how many suited up in the Super Bowl Sunday for New England. It is a point of pride in Foxboro that Belichick can turn so many rejects into a Super Bowl participant.
“I tell the team that I don’t care how you got here,” Belichick said last week. “It’s what you do when you get here. It doesn’t matter if you were drafted in the second round, the fifth round or not drafted at all. Ten years in the league or one year in the league, we are going to play the best players.”
Fine. The NFL’s other 31 teams’ scouting staffs, however, aren’t dumb. There are only so many ‘steals’ out there.
The Giants have some of their own. Superstar wideout Victor Cruz comes immediately to mind. He was undrafted only two years ago, amazingly. Otherwise, you can go up and down the Giants’ athleticism-soaked roster and find excellent players at virtually every position.
For instance, there are few better running backs in the league than Ahmad Bradshaw, or better pounders than Brandon Jacobs. And Jason Pierre-Paul is as promising and dynamic a young defensive end as there is in football, and he’s not the only one; the Giants defensive line is full of solid playmakers across the two-deep.
Then there are the wide receivers. Besides Cruz, there’s former first-round draft pick Hakeem Nicks, and third-rounder Mario Manningham. The trio dazzled this season.
Since his college days, Manningham has proven to be a big-play downfield threat. He isn’t the best over the middle, or on other short routes. Despite what NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth intimated at one point Sunday, Manningham’s fly-pattern route running is his forte. Not every receiver can make those over-the-shoulder grabs in traffic on the straight fly like that.
Brady has no such wideout. On Sunday he threw five balls more than 20 yards downfield — and completed none.
The one he needed caught most was the rainbow to the wide-open Welker at the Giants’ 20, with four minutes left. If Welker hadn’t dropped that one, the Pats probably would have scored — and burned enough clock to stack the odds against all-world Eli Manning pulling it out with his passing heroics.
As it was, the once undrafted, unwanted Welker dropped his long pass in the final minutes of the game — while the fleet, always highly regarded Manningham made a catch for the ages on his.
Talent won out.