Giants and Pats prepare for overdue rematch

By Larry Fine

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - Nearly four years since their epic clash in Super Bowl XLII, the New England Patriots and New York Giants are finally getting ready to lock horns again.

Their matchup, at Foxboro's Gillette Stadium on Sunday, will be their first, outside of preseason games, since the 2008 Super Bowl, when the Giants triumphed 17-14 to ruin New England's bid for an unbeaten season.

Their long-overdue rematch has rekindled memories of their last meeting but for players and coaches on both sides, the dramatic events of 2008 have already been consigned to the past.

"That was a long time ago. Right now our focus is on this week. I don't think that game will have too much bearing on this one," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters in a conference call Wednesday.

"We're playing against a good football team that's 5-2, and that's where we're at. We know we're going to have to play well. It will take our best effort."

The Giants currently sit on top of the NFC East, while the Patriots share the lead in the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills, and both teams share a mutual respect.

"Respect all, fear none," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose team scraped by the winless Miami Dolphins last week.

"This is a very, very good football team. They score an awful lot of points. But they've given up a lot of yards, no doubt about it."

The high-powered Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady, are coming off a 25-17 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh and are trying to improve a defense that has given up the most yards in the NFL.

But there are two factors weighing heavily in their favor. Brady and the Patriots are returning home where they have won 20 regular season games and they have seldom lost two in a row. In the last nine seasons, they have dropped back-to-back games twice, in 2006 and in 2008.

With Brady slinging it to slot receiver Wes Welker and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots feature the league's number two rated passing attack.

The Giants big defensive weapon, and one that disrupted the Patriots in the Super Bowl, is their pass rush. New York has 26 sacks for a loss of 205 yards this season.

"It's a huge challenge," Belichick said. "Most times you play a team and that team might have one player that's the caliber of rusher that you really have to game plan for. They have five.

Belichick, singling out Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka, said: "They present a huge challenge just in their depth, their quality, their scheme. It's as good a group as I've seen in a long time."

Coughlin said keeping the potent Patriots' offense off the field was a key.

"Pittsburgh had the ball for 39 minutes and 22 seconds," the Giants coach said. "It was a very physical game."

This marks the beginning of a brutal stretch of games for the Giants, who benefited from a relatively easy start to the season.

After the Patriots, the Giants are away to the San Francisco 49ers, home to the Philadelphia Eagles, on the road against the New Orleans Saints, at home to Super Bowl champions Green Baythen away to the Dallas Cowboys.

"We're playing just one game this week, I think," Coughlin said. "We play them one at a time."

(Editing by Julian Linden)