Patriots will try to tarnish Giants' perfect record -- in preseason

Quarterback Eli Manning of the New York Giants Quarterback Eli Manning of the New York Giants gets sack in the third quarter by Rob Ninkovich and Gerard Warren of the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLVI. (Feb. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Seven years.

That's how long the Patriots have waited for Thursday night's preseason game. A chance to exact revenge on the Giants for the most soul-crushing loss in their franchise's history. They've played several times since Super Bowl XLII, including every preseason since and in Super Bowl XLVI. But finally they have a chance to do to the Giants what the Giants did to them at the end of the 2007 season.

Tarnish their perfect record.

OK, so it's only a preseason record. And it's a strange one at that because the Giants have not exactly cruised through their four exhibition victories. Not even Tom Coughlin seems particularly impressed by it.

"The only thing that matters is the regular season," he said this week. "What is important about preseason is improvement, production and feeling like people are in the right spots. That is the only thing I can attest to."

Players such as Ryan Nassib probably won't have much of a hand in any regular-season efforts, and others won't even make the final roster. But for those players who helped win those four games, going 5-0 in competitions that don't count is a significant achievement.

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"I think it would mean a lot," said Nassib, who has played the most and arguably the best of all three Giants quarterbacks this summer, completing 38 of 60 passes for 481 yards with five touchdowns and engineering three of the four comeback wins. "It would be a good launching point into the season and would help us with our confidence level and things like that."

The Giants have four perfect preseasons in their history. They were 4-0 in 1990 and 2006, 5-0 in 1985 and 6-0 in 1973. The last three times they were unbeaten, they made the playoffs (and won the Super Bowl in the 1990 season). After 2006 and 1985 they won the Super Bowl the following season. Take that as whatever kind of harbinger you want. In 1973 they actually won three times as many preseason games as regular-season ones (they finished 2-11-1), so there is not always a correlation to success.

The most glaring example in NFL history of how little the preseason can predict is the 2008 Lions, who went 0-16. They were 4-0 in the preseason, including a win over the defending champion Giants.

Still, for a team that last year lost its last three preseason games and skidded through the first six weeks of the regular season without a win, grabbing even inconsequential victories is an improvement.

Most eyes Thursday night will be on the Giants' starters, who are expected to play the first 15 to 18 snaps of the game. Coaches and fans will want to get a feel for whether Eli Manning and the new offense can build off last week's two-minute drive for a touchdown. They'll want to see if the starting defense can register a sack (it hasn't yet) or a turnover (none of those, either) even if they are facing rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and not Tom Brady.

After they are finished and most folks have changed the channel, Nassib and the other backups will be on the field fighting to be perfect. No, it won't be the same as the 2007 Patriots, who were 18-0 before losing in the final minute to the Giants.

There won't be any trophy. They won't go down in history. They will not become immortals of the sport, hold reunions decades from now, or pop champagne bottles when future teams lose their August perfection. But don't tell the guys who are trying to pull it off that it doesn't mean anything.

"We always go out there looking for a win," Nassib said.

Even when no one else is counting.

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