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Pats, Giants embraced their changes

February 4, 2012

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They’re the same teams, with the same coaches and quarterbacks, and they’ll wear the same uniform colors they did four years ago.

Tom Brady and the Patriots will be in their home blues in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday in Indianapolis; Eli Manning and the New York Giants will be in their road whites.

It will look like Super Bowl XLII, Feb. 3, 2008, all over again, for a flash.

But the current Patriots and Giants are different, too. Different calibrations, different schemes, different sensibilities, very different rosters.

That’s the story of this rematch — these franchises kept their foundations yet frantically evolved and adapted on the margins and beyond.

They had to, and they knew they had to. You can’t remain the same. You can’t hold onto sentimental favorites and dusty traditions.

You move forward and make tough decisions, or you’re going to get pummeled.

That’s why Bill Belichick’s Patriots and Tom Coughlin’s Giants are back in the Super Bowl.

Look at the Bay Area, and it’s clear that the 49ers and Raiders (finally) are moving forward and making real-world decisions, too.

But first, a look at the changes to the Super Bowl contestants from four years ago (when the Giants pulled the massive upset, 17-14) . . .

One example: None of the four players who scored touchdowns in Super Bowl 42 — New England’s Laurence Maroney and Randy Moss and the Giants’ David Tyree and Plaxico Burress — are still on the two teams.

Another example: Only 23 players from the two current rosters remain from the 106 on the rosters four years ago — seven Patriots and 16 Giants.

Just from the 2007 regular-season core, the Patriots had Moss, Richard Seymour, Asante Samuel, Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi — all gone.

And the Giants had Burress, Michael Strahan, Amani Toomer, Jeremy Shockey, Kevin Boss and Gibril Wilson — all gone.

Coughlin and Belichick have built around Manning and Brady, then adjusted, changed, and moved on. It all changes, every year. You can’t hold on to the past.

“We won a lot of games with those (players) in the 2003-07 stretch in there, but it doesn’t last forever in football,” Belichick said in Indianapolis this week.

“Somewhere along the line, young players come in, and old players move on. . . . Some players we’ve drafted, and other players we’ve brought in. However they got here, it doesn’t really matter.

“Look, this is a young man’s game.”

In 2007, the Patriots were a long-ball passing attack featuring Moss; now Brady does his damage throwing over the middle to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

And the Patriots were the fourth-ranked defense in the 2007 season; when that unit started aging, Belichick quickly dispatched many stalwarts and went experimental, including the use of offensive players in key defensive spots. New England’s defense ranked 31st this regular season but has held up in the playoffs.

On the flip side, the 2007 Giants were a plodding, run-based offense in 2007, with only the 21st-ranked pass attack. But this season the Giants were the fifth-ranked pass attack and last-ranked rushing game, almost wholly reliant on Manning’s arm.

With the 49ers this season, change was a big theme, and separating from the past was a subtext.

You have to adapt. There can’t be sacred cows or permanent playing styles.

You have to be willing to cut off certain things and move to others. You can honor the past . . . but it’s more of an honor to everybody when you actually win.

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