Many turning points for Giants, Patriots

BARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer Published:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- One game, one play, one moment can turn a team's fortunes in the right direction.

The opposite seems to be the case for the New York Giants and New England Patriots, who recognize many turning points on their way to Sunday's Super Bowl.

Oddly, the victory that put each of them on winning streaks that have not ended came against the New York Jets. Yet few players, coaches or even the teams' owners pointed to that as a critical juncture in their chase for another NFL championship.

Some even believe the path to the Super Bowl was set by off-field situations, including having key players get healthy or developing team chemistry.

Outside of destiny or fate, the Giants and Patriots offered up just about every reason imaginable for their success during Tuesday's media day -- without getting too specific.

"I don't think you can point to one thing," Giants cornerback Corey Webster said, "but I do know when you develop good chemistry, when you don't have anyone pointing fingers, it does not matter what happened the week before. We reached that point, we kept fighting and fighting to win on the field, and we are here today."

Here being Lucas Oil Stadium, a place the Giants (12-7) couldn't see for all the losses they experienced after going 6-2. They dropped four in a row -- three to eventual division winners -- and five of six before that "road" game against the local rival Jets.

By then, the Giants knew each week brought an elimination game. They've won all of those to reach their second Super Bowl in four years, against the team whose unbeaten season they wrecked in the 2008 title game.

"When we came out of the Dallas game (a 37-34 victory to break the slide), I thought that would be it," Giants owner John Mara said of turning the season around. "Then we come out so flat (against Washington). So that wasn't it."

The Giants dropped to 7-7, then manhandled the Jets with a fierce defense. That victory coincided with important players such as DE Justin Tuck and LB Michael Boley getting healthy enough to play up to their usual high standards. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora also was close to returning from an ankle injury.

"We came together against the Jets and we started playing very well as a defense," Umenyiora said, "but definitely health had something to do with that. Obviously, we had a lot of guys who are key components who missed a lot of games. The minute we were able to get everyone together, we all took off."

Health also was a major factor for the Patriots (15-3), who took off following a home loss to the Giants. They went to the Meadowlands and routed the Jets in a much-hyped game -- just as the "Battle of New York" would be ballyhooed seven weeks later -- and kept right on going, straight to Indy and their fifth Super Bowl with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

New England took particular joy in that victory over the Jets, but found even more satisfaction in piling up the wins while undermanned.

"Not sure there's a turning point as far as one game or anything," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "I think that it's just having the same group of guys out there as the past couple of weeks. We're finally coming together and getting guys healthy."

Still, there must be a hallmark moment. A Brady touchdown pass, perhaps. A Rob Gronkowski catch-and-plow-over-a-defender score.

Nope.

Not even Sterling Moore's stripping of the ball from Baltimore receiver Lee Evans in the end zone, a pass that if completed would have lifted the Ravens into the Super Bowl.

"I don't think about it," Moore said when asked about a turning point. "I think there's a lot of plays that helped us get here. (Brandon) Spikes' interception and the way Vince (Wilfork) played that game; I'm just glad I had an opportunity to make a play."

So, for all the spectacular plays, crucial wins and dramatic moments in their seasons, nothing truly qualified as a trendsetter?

"That's not the way a season goes," Giants left guard Kevin Boothe said. "There's lots of twists and turns, sure, but even with the streak of losses we had, we still had all our goals in front of us. That's all you can really ask for."