ATLANTA — Not long after the confetti stopped falling on the Patriots — who get showered in the stuff so often some scraps might take up permanent residence in the hair of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick — Saquon Barkley took to Twitter to post a simple message.
“One day …” he wrote and added in the emoji of two hands clasped together in prayer.
Do his Giants have a prayer to get to Super Bowl LIV in Miami? Right here, right now, after witnessing one of the most tepid and offensively starved Super Bowls in the 53-year history of the sport, the arrow is pointing to a definitive “no.” A franchise that is 3-13 and 5-11 the past two seasons, set to trot out 38-year-old Eli Manning and a defense that could never be so unyielding as the Patriots were in their 13-3 smothering of the Rams in Super Bowl LIII inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, is not capable of winning enough to get into the playoffs and then winning some more to get to a Super Bowl.
This is not a revelation, and the Giants know it to be so. They are trying to build up what has crashed down. There are lessons to be gleaned from every Super Bowl and this one, despite the dearth of offensive highlights and the complete absence of momentum shifts — there cannot be any shift when there was never, ever was any momentum gained by either side all night — can be useful to the Giants as a teaching tool.
No team can replicate the exact formula the Patriots used to win their sixth Lombardi Trophy in the 18-year span of this dynasty, as no team can set as a goal to get the smartest head coach and greatest quarterback on the job now and quite possibly ever. Just look how the Patriots have cared for the aging Brady, who at 41 years old is not what he once was. They doggedly re-fortified the team around him, starting with supporting him with an offensive line not comprised of high-priced talent or top-10 draft picks.
They did it with innate brilliance. Nate Solder was a solid competitor at left tackle for the Patriots for seven years, a capable blind-side protector for Brady. When it came time for Solder to get paid, the Patriots bowed out, realizing his price tag on the open market would not be commensurate with his value on the field. The Giants, desperate to fill a hole dug by the gaping Ereck Flowers mistake, signed Solder to the richest deal for an offensive lineman in league history — four years, $62 million. Solder played every snap for the Giants in 2018 and brought the professionalism they needed to their offensive-line room. His play was what the Patriots knew it would be — consistent, often effective, rarely exceptional. Meanwhile, the Patriots replaced Solder by trading for Trent Brown, a massive, 380-pound youngster, a 2015 seventh-round pick of the 49ers. Brown stepped into the void and, far more affordably, provided the Patriots with precisely what they needed.
It is altogether fitting Brady completed 10 passes for 141 yards to Julian Edelman against the Rams and it was Edelman, not Brady, named the MVP, the receiver and not the thrower honored for his contribution. Brady did little of note in the game, and 13 points would not have been enough to win any of the previous 52 Super Bowls. In truth, the Patriots’ entire defense deserved the MVP award and the entire unit on Monday should have been headed to Orlando to appear in the Disney World parade.
Finding their next franchise quarterback must be a priority for the Giants but not the only priority. If that player cannot be secured this time around, so be it. The process of refitting a broken defense can and must advance so that when the new, young quarterback is identified and procured, there is a nucleus of talent already in place to give the team a chance to compete. No one in the history of the NFL has put together and torn apart and reassembled a defense as repeatedly and successfully as Belichick and therein his true genius lies.
Barkley turns 22 on Thursday, another year older with one NFL season in the books. His ability is unmatched and has the look and feel of a player and person a team can build around.
“Obviously it is a long road and it is not going to be easy,” Barkley said as he made the rounds here this past week. “We still have a lot of figuring out to do, but that is what it takes. Everyone wants to be in this moment and at this game.”
Hoping and praying is a start. Smarts and copying the Patriots is the way to finish.