The AFC champions' heralded offensive line allowed a season-high five sacks to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl on Sunday, failing to give Tom Brady the type of tight protection they had guarded him with all season.
"It's one of those things where they have a great front seven," center Dan Koppen said. "They have tremendous players up there and they just outplayed us."
Their inability to protect Brady was a major reason the Patriots' quest for perfection ended with a disappointing, history-making 17-14 loss.
"They have some great pressure schemes, obviously some great pass rushers," Brady said. "Once we kind of got the idea of what we were doing, I thought we handled it much better, but we didn't get the ball in the end zone enough."
Coming in, Brady had been sacked a career-low 24 times this season playing behind a line that produced three Pro Bowlers in Koppen, left tackle Matt Light and left guard Logan Mankins. Throw in right guard Stephen Neal and right tackle Nick Kaczur, and Brady played most of his record-breaking season not having to worry much about getting hit by bloodthirsty defenders.
"I like when I don't get touched," Brady said earlier in the week.
Then, disaster struck -- in the form of an all-out, pressure-packed swarming defensive attack by the Giants -- in the worst possible setting. It was the first time Brady had been sacked as many as five times since the New York Jets did it on Sept. 21, 2003.
"If I could tell you, we'd have it fixed," running back Kevin Faulk said. "At the same time, they outplayed us."
They sure did, and left Brady wondering what hit him. Brady simply had no time to find Randy Moss and his other targets on a regular basis against the Giants. He should've known he was in for a long day when he was sacked by Kawika Mitchell and Justin Tuck on consecutive plays midway through the second quarter.
It didn't help that Neal left after Tuck's sack, and didn't return.
"He was an upset guy," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said of Brady. "He was yelling at his linemen. I think that worked in our favor."
The offensive line was also clearly rattled by the Giants, with Light being called for false starts on consecutive drives in the third quarter.
With 19 seconds left in the game and the Patriots facing a do-or-die scenario, Brady was sacked for the final time when Jay Alford pulled him down at New England's 16-yard line. Brady was left with nothing to do but try two straight desperation heaves to Moss to no avail.
"I think their intensity from the beginning snap to the end of the game was really higher than ours," Moss said. "We just couldn't meet that intensity."
The Giants came in with 56 sacks, including the playoffs, and showed in their Week 17 loss to the Patriots that they could be a force against New England's line. Brady was sacked just once and threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns in that one, but was hit repeatedly and forced to stray from the game plan.
With help from their linemen, the Patriots set NFL records for points scored and total touchdowns, while Brady broke the league mark for TD passes and Moss set the record for scoring receptions. That high-powered offense was held to a season-low 14 points in the Super Bowl -- mostly because it couldn't get time.
"They played well defensively," coach Bill Belichick said. "They've been able to rush. They led the league in sacks, they rushed all year. They are a good defensive football team. They played well."
The offensive line received a great deal of attention this week, for their consistency -- and for the hair on their face. All five of Brady's bunch had some sort of facial hair going on, including Neal's Fu Manchu and Mankins' big, bushy Grizzly Adams-like beard.
"We all could've done things better tonight," Brady said.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.