If any Redskins player should understand tonight’s Super Bowl matchup, it’s linebacker London Fletcher.
Beginning his illustrious career in St. Louis, his Rams played Brady’s Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, exactly a decade ago. In a shocking upset (which has since been questioned in Spygate), the Patriots pulled out a late victory, launching the first dynasty of the 21st century.
From St. Louis, Fletcher left to join the Bills, where he faced the Patriots twice a year for five years, solidifying his rivalry with New England.
After his time in Buffalo, Fletcher brought his talents to Washington, where he became a part of the storied Redskins-Giants tradition–two teams that have played the other 157 times. And after taking on these two teams a combined three times this season, he has a pretty good idea of what he’s looking at across the line of scrimmage.
He shared his thoughts on each team earlier this week with Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, beginning first with his team’s unparalleled success against the Giants:
“With the Giants, it’s just a case of that we know them very well, play them twice a year and have been going against those guys for a number of years now. It’s the same coaching staff that has been there for the whole time I’ve been in Washington, and even before then. Their offense isn’t going to change. They are what they are, and they’re pretty good at what they do. I guess we just have the right guys to match up pretty well with them in our defensive front seven, and in coverage-wise, in what we do in the back end.”
The last time that the Giants lost this season was against the Redskins in the Meadowlands, in Week 15. The game was a decisive, double-digit victory for the Redskins, and one that looked to be fatal for the Giants’ offseason hopes.
But after being swept by the Redskins for the first time since 1999, the Giants turned it around and have won five-straight, by an average of 15 points per contest. In the process, they captured the division and conference crowns, surprising many–including Fletcher, who was not terribly impressed with the G-Men:
“We match up well against them. But to say I thought they’d get on the roll that they’re on? No, I didn’t think that at all. To their credit, they did what they needed to do to get where they’re at. They got hot.”
“One thing I think that kind of went a little bit overlooked was when we played them, they were coming off the big win at Dallas in that [Week 14] Sunday night game. It was obvious there was a little bit of a letdown for them when they played us. They weren’t at the same emotional peak as against the Cowboys.”
And perhaps they should have been. Instead of beating the Redskins and cruising to the playoffs, the Giants made it as close as possible, needing a Week 17 win to make it to the playoffs.
On the other side of the field tonight, is the AFC’s finest–a team with a reputation for excellence, and the top overall seed and conference champion. Brady and Belichick are in pursuit of their fourth title together (in five opportunities), and a rematch of Super Bowl XLI.
The catalyst for their success is the much-loved and hated No. 12. Fletcher told Banks in his interview that the key to Brady’s success lies in his preparation:
“He’s going to know you, he’s going to study you, and know what you’re going to do and what you like to do. So you’ve got to be on top of your assignments and execution, because it’s going to be as much a mental game as it is physical against Brady.”
“Obviously it starts with Tom Brady and his greatness, but now you add those two tight ends that they have with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, to go with Wes Welker and Deion Branch, and it’s just a tremendous challenge that you face because of their offensive pace, the formations they have, and the no-huddle. It’s definitely the ultimate challenge play in and play out against that offense.”
In case you’re wondering, Fletcher wouldn’t venture a guess at the outcome of this game, but did note that it would be a close one.
Maybe in his second career on television, Fletcher will be more forthcoming with his prognostications. But in this career, he is primarily focused on making sure that he plays in this game next year.