There is no team in the Belichick era that has left deeper bruises on the psyche of Patriots fans than the New York Giants. All that pre-2001 fatalism, angst, and agita that was part and parcel of pulling for the Patriots comes rushing back when professional dream-killers Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin are across the field.
If you want to clear a room full of the Foxborough Faithful out fast, just show David Tyree's helmet catch from Super Bowl XLII or Mario Manningham's tight-coverage, tight-rope reception in Super Bowl XLVI. They're the football equivalent of shouting "fire" in a theater.
If it weren't for the Giants the Patriots would have six Super Bowl titles and the only 19-0 season in NFL history. They would be indisputably the greatest team of the Super Bowl era.
That's why there is some trepidation about the latest Patriots juggernaut bidding for history escaping Exit 16W and MetLife Stadium with their pursuit of 16-0 intact on Sunday. Manning and Coughlin major in derailing Patriots history. They have won the last three meetings with Belichick and Tom Brady — including a 2011 win at Gillette Stadium that ended New England's 20-game home winning streak — all courtesy of late fourth-quarter comebacks.
It's a Pavlovian Patriot fan reaction to fear the G-Men. It's also letting the past blind you from the present. These aren't your older brother's Giants. Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Mathias Kiwanuka aren't walking through that door, and they're not blowing up the Patriots' depleted offensive line.
The Big Blue blueprint for unnerving Brady and felling the Patriots is one the current Giants aren't capable of following.
Unlike their predecessors, these Giants couldn't find the quarterback with Google Maps. They're last in the NFL in sacks with just nine, which is one of the reasons they welcomed back defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who mangled his right hand in an unfortunate Fourth of July fireworks accident, last week.
The key to the Giants' last three wins against the Patriots has been holding Brady and Co. below 21 points each time, allowing Manning to work his black magic in the fourth quarter. You can't do that if you can't make Brady squirm.
The fear of the Giants is rooted in a well-earned reputation for rebuffing the Patriots, but not the current reality of New York's roster.
If Brady was facing a team by another name that was last in the NFL in total defense and possessed the 31st-ranked pass defense, we would already be chalking up the victory and be on to ridiculing Rex Ryan and the Bills.
The Giants have faced three Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks this season — Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees. That trio combined to complete 74.5 percent of their passes for 1,224 yards and 11 touchdowns with four interceptions. Romo and Brees weren't sacked. Ryan was sacked twice.
Brees lit up the Giants like the Manhattan skyline, passing for 505 yards and an NFL-record-tying seven touchdowns on Nov. 1.
And the Patriots should fear the Giants? More like the other way around with TB12 in Terminator mode.
What the Giants do excel at defensively under defensive coordinator and Grafton High grad Steve Spagnuolo, the architect of the Super Bowl XLII game plan, is forcing turnovers.
The Giants lead the NFL with 21 takeaways. They've had at least two in four straight games, and they've scored four defensive touchdowns this season.
But the Patriots are rarely a team that is complicit in its own demise.
Give Coughlin and Eli their due. They stare into the hoodie of darkness and Brady's golden complexion and don't flinch. In the biggest of games, they have bested the most revered contemporaries in their respective fields.
Coughlin is 5-1 against Belichick in his coaching career. Manning is 3-1 with nine touchdowns, three interceptions, 1,052 yards, and a 62.8 percent completion rate against the Patriots.
It's more than fitting that Coughlin grew up in Waterloo, N.Y.
His teams have defied Belichick and Brady's NFL empire and mortalized them.
The all-out blitz that left an injured Ellis Hobbs one-on-one with Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown with 35 seconds left in Super Bowl XLII was not Belichick's finest hour.
In Super Bowl XLVI, the only way Belichick could get his 31st-ranked defense off the field and Brady back on it to try to win the game was to intentionally let the Giants score the go-ahead touchdown with 57 seconds remaining.
It was the right move, but complete anathema for a coach whose game plan as Giants defensive coordinator for Super Bowl XXV found its way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Two unforgettable moments from Super Bowl XLVI are Brady's first-possession safety, and him seated, legs splayed out on the turf like a little kid, after he threw a terrible toss-up interception to Chase Blackburn.
Of course in between those moments, Brady managed to set a Super Bowl record for consecutive completions with 16. But that went into history's dustbin.
Offensively, the Giants have weapons that can put a scare into the Patriots. Odell Beckham Jr. not only can defy physics, but defensive game plans. Rueben Randle is the type of No. 2 receiver that could expose the Patriots' cut-rate group of corners behind Malcolm Butler. The Giants have old friend Shane Vereen as their third-down back.
Eli is the Manning brother that Patriots fans fear. Peyton is the one that they mock.
Eli has won two Super Bowl MVPs at the Patriots' expense. His fourth-quarter exploits have caused a lot of stress around here.
Perhaps, he is subconsciously avenging his brother.
The Giants are responsible for Patriots' pain — the 18-1 Disaster in the Desert and Heartbreak in the Hoosier State.
But uniforms don't win games. The guys in them do.
The Giants have a different type of team in 2015, which is why it should be different this time for the Patriots.