December 30, 2007
Patriots Make 16-0 Dreams Come True
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After completing a comeback from down three games to none against the Yankees three years ago, Terry Francona said it best: "There's more baseball to be played!"
Bill Belichick knows this too. The Patriots have just finished off the best regular season in NFL history, but the coach knows all too well that there are still three games left to play before they hand you a Vince. There is still more football to be played. The ultimate prize has not yet been won.
That said, the Patriots pulled off perhaps the most amazing feat of their 47-year existence, and one of the most amazing in league history. You would be hard pressed to find anyone out there who thought that someday, especially in this era of parity in the NFL, a team could run the table in the regular season. It finally happened in 2007, and your New England Patriots did it.
The Patriots finished the 2007 regular season with a perfect 16-0 record, thanks to a hard-fought 38-35 win over the able and hardy New York Giants Saturday night at Giants Stadium. Figuring that they would rest starters to get ready for a much more important playoff date next weekend at Tampa, the Giants instead came at the Patriots hard all game long, led at one point by 12 in the third quarter, and the outcome was not secured until Mike Vrabel fell on an onside kick with a minute left.
Most every sought after record, both team and individual, was reached Saturday night. Tom Brady and Randy Moss connected on two touchdown passes, setting new NFL records. Brady broke Peyton Manning's touchdown pass record and ended his season with 50 touchdown passes, while Moss broke Jerry Rice's touchdown reception record and now has 23 to end the season. Wes Welker needed only one catch to set a Patriot record for most receptions in a season, and his eleven catches put him at 111 for the season, knocking Troy Brown out of the record books.
As a team, the Patriots eclipsed the league mark of 556 points scored by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings with their first touchdown. They finished with 588 points when the night was done. Fittingly, Moss was a member of both the 2007 Patriots and the 1998 Vikings.
And of course, the sixteen wins establish a new league high for the regular season. The win marked the 19th straight regular season victory for the Patriots, which breaks their old record of 18 straight set between the 2003 and 2004 seasons. It is the first time since the 1972 Miami Dolphins that a team made it through the regular season undefeated.
The Patriots faced a tough Giants team which had no intention of resting starters nor making it easy on the Patriots. Eli Manning, facing a team which has had good success over the years against his brother Peyton, finished with a passer rating of 118.6, actually higher than Brady's, with 22 of 32 passing for 251 yards. He threw four touchdown passes, two to former Steeler Plaxico Burress, one to Brandon Jacobs and one to Kevin Boss. Manning played with a high level of confidence throughout most of the game, and looked better than he has sometimes looked in other games this season when he tends to get frazzled and make bad plays.
One area where Belichick will address in the two weeks to come is kickoff coverage. Domenik Hixon, a third-string wideout who doesn't even appear on the Giants' special teams depth chart, returned eight kicks for 221 yards and a 27.6 average. One of them was a second quarter touchdown for 74 yards against a Patriot coverage team which completely broke down on assignments. The Patriots had just taken a 10-7 lead at the start of the second quarter when Dixon took a short kickoff at the 26 and ran practically untouched for the score.
With 9:12 left in the third quarter, the Giants had just scored on a 19-yard pass from Manning to Burress to make it 28-16 Giants. They had beaten the Patriots in every way possible and had the upper hand in all phases of the game. There wasn't any one play which was a point of demarcation as to when the momentum swung back to the Patriots, but Brady took the Patriots and led them on an 8-play, 73-yard drive which featured passes of 15 yards to Ben Watson and 28 yards to Welker. A pass interference call on Gerris Wilkinson in the end zone led to a six-yard touchdown run by Laurence Maroney to make it 28-23 Giants.
The teams exchanged punts as the game moved into the fourth quarter. Two huge plays in this quarter put this game in the win column for the Patriots. On second down and ten at their own 35, Brady found Moss wide open deep down the right side, but underthrew the ball and Moss saw it glance off his fingertips. On third down, Brady ran the exact same play. Moss again was wide open. This time, Brady laid it right in there for the touchdown which put both men in the record book (the two connected in the first quarter from four yards out). Leading 29-28, the Patriots went for two and got in on a Maroney run up the middle off of a pump fake by Brady.
The Giants got the ball back, and three plays later the Patriots got the ball back. Facing second down and six at their own 27, Manning tried to hit Burress down the left sideline. But he overthrew Burress and Ellis Hobbs made the pick at the Patriot 48, barely keeping both feet inbounds. Brady then took the Patriots all the way in nine plays, with Maroney going in from five yards out to make it 38-28 with 4:30 to go.
The Giants did run off one more score, a 2-yard pass from Manning to Burress, but used up way too much clock in the process (3:32). When Mike Vrabel fell on the ensuing onside kick, school was out.
The Patriots were finally able to whoop it up and celebrate their perfect regular season. In front of a huge television audience and a hostile New York crowd which hates anything New England, the Patriots were able to complete the first perfect regular season in 35 years. Even if the Patriots should stumble in the playoffs, the record books for 2007 will always say "Patriots 16-0".
And once again, it was Brady who got the Patriots where they wanted to be. He threw for 356 yards on 32 of 42 passing and a rating of 116.8. The defense also get props for getting after Manning once they were trailing by 12 points. Manning made more hurried throws when the Patriots started bringing the blitz. Brady, meanwhile, was Brady, and should have nailed down the MVP award with another masterpiece performance.
Of course, the Patriots want to make it 19-0 with three playoff wins. The Patriots won't know for another week who they will play in the Divisional Round. But the Patriots will go home and rest up, and reflect on what they did in 2007.
No, the Patriots aren't Mary Poppins yet, "practically perfect in every way". But what the Patriots did in 2007 was something no one thought was possible.
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