It wasn't pretty, and at times it didn't even look as if it was the same team that lead the NFL on offense, but the New England Patriots managed to fight off a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to come from behind and defeat the New York Giants.
Tom Brady and Randy Moss are each in the record books after the pair connected on two touchdown passes against the Giants. Moss hauled in 6 passes for 100 yards and the pair of scores. Moss' second catch put him ahead of the record (22) for most touchdown catches in a season held by former San Francisco 49er Jerry Rice. The reception also vaulted Brady (50) over Peyton Manning's (49) single season NFL touchdown passing record.
Brady claimed he wasn't thinking about setting records despite passing Manning's mark.
"It's the God's honest truth, I never thought about it or tried to play any differently than what I've always tried to do," said Brady in his post game press conference. "I just try to find the open guy and get him the ball."
The Patriots scored on their first four possessions to start the game, continuing a trend that has marked the team's success all season. Even with the four scores, New England trailed at the half 21-16. It was a case of making field goals and not touchdowns, a red zone issue that has been a concern the past few weeks.
"I don't think that was our best football game out there today," said Belichick. "I think there are a lot of things that we can do better. The Giants are a good football team, don't get me wrong, but there are things that we can do a better job of and hopefully the next time we play we will have those things improved."
Giants quarterback Eli Manning turned in his best performance of the season against the Patriots, and a lot of it came courtesy of a quick start by the Giants' signal caller. On the second play of the game Manning launched a bomb for Plaxico Burress who reached over the smaller defender Ellis Hobbs to pull the ball in. Manning felt the play set the tone for the day.
"You know, it's a big play," said Manning. "We wanted to try and hit a big play early on. First off, to loosen up some of their corners, because they do like to guess and we wanted to prevent them from jumping routes. We wanted to try and set the tempo for the game."
When teams drop back to pass, usually it gives the Patriots a chance to tee off on the quarterback, unless the opponent has a solid rushing attack. The Giants rushing offense ranked 10th in the league entering the game.
Manning handed off to Brandon Jacobs to keep the Patriots' defense from teeing off against the pass. Jacobs used his 6-foot-4, 264-pound frame to pound the ball against a Patriots defense that had given up 545 yards (135 avg.) per game over the past four contests. Although Jacobs finished with only 67 yards on 15 carries, his 4.5 per carry average kept the Giants' offense rolling, and forced the Patriots to bring extra bodies up to defend the run. The Patriots' adjustment forced the secondary into more single coverage on the corners, something Eli Manning took advantage of.
"We were able to make some big plays in the passing game, and we haven't had that in a while," said Manning. "It was good to do, it helps. We had all the guys practicing this week and Plaxico (Burress) made some big plays. But all the guys, Kevin Boss, Steve Smith, Amani, everybody was getting involved."
Manning enjoyed more success against the Patriots top 5 ranked defense than he had enjoyed the previous five weeks when he passed for over 250 yards and four touchdowns. Manning's 4 TD passes equaled his offensive output for the 5 previous games combined. His numbers for the night were a very respectable 22 of 32 for 251 yards with four TDs and 1 interception. It was the interception that was his undoing though.
Trailing 31-28 with just under 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter Manning heaved a pass deep down the left side for Plaxico Burress. Rodney Harrison ran under the route forcing Manning to adjust his throw. The ball sailed over the head of Burress who was open on the sideline, and into the waiting arms of Ellis Hobbs. Hobbs managed to gain control, put both feet down in bounds to secure the interception.
The turnover led to another short field for the Patriots and that was all Tom Brady needed. Nine plays, 52 yards and 5 minutes later, Laurence Maroney bounded into the Giants end zone for his second touchdown of the day. The score extended the Patriots lead to 10 points, 38-28. Manning's turnover was the fatal mistake teams have made all season, which enable the Patriots to come from behind to win.
Manning had one more opportunity to cut into the lead. On their next possession the Giants marched 68 yards in 11 plays using up 3 and a half minutes of precious time. Although the Giants successfully converted on the drive to cut the lead by seven, Manning and the offense burned time that they needed. New York had to go for the onside kick. When Mike Vrabel came down with the kick, it signaled the beginning of the Patriots' celebration.
Three Tom Brady kneel-downs later, the Patriots were officially in the record books with the perfect season. It was a historical moment not lost on the crowd, or the Giants who played their starters from beginning to the very end.
"That is a good team," said Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce. "You have to play damn near perfect against them ---- you have to play perfect."
Perfect is exactly what the Patriots have become. New England is the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to finish the regular season undefeated. The Patriots accomplished the feat over 16 games while the Dolphins completed their season in a 14 game schedule.
Brady admitted that winning was good and going undefeated was even better, but Belichick wouldn't let the team bask in the historical moment for too long.
"Everyone's going to enjoy this one," he said. "This happens once every 35 years. We'll celebrate for a couple of days then get ready to go back to work."
Official Game Thread: Patriots vs Giants (Pats site)