38 - 35 Final
  for this game

Patriots rally to complete perfect season

Dec 30, 2007 - 6:14 AM EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- The play of the New England Patriots was hardly perfect. The end result was.

Sparked by the record-setting duo of Tom Brady and Randy Moss, the Patriots completed the first undefeated season in 35 years with a pulsating 38-35 victory over the New York Giants on Saturday night.

In becoming the first team in NFL history to finish the regular season 16-0, New England had to turn back a spirited effort by the Giants.

"You work all year to win every game," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "To be able to win them all is great, I'm very happy about it."

Laurence Maroney ran for a pair of touchdowns and Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals as the Patriots erased their largest deficit of the season, trailing 28-16 early in the third quarter before running off 22 consecutive points.

"We definitely have the heart of a champion and that's something you can't measure," Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour said.

New England also won its 19th consecutive regular-season game, eclipsing its own league record of 18 set over the 2003-04 seasons.

"Sixteen and 0 is very special," Brady said. "We were down 10 or 11 in the fourth and found a way to win it."

The Patriots found a way behind the star-studded tandem of Brady and Moss, who each broke a historic NFL record.

Brady's two touchdown passes - both to Moss - gave him 50 for the season, eclipsing the previous mark of 49 set by Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts in 2004.

"It was kind of a tricky game because it really doesn't mean much, but it means a lot," Brady said. "Any individual record for me is not as meaningful as what I've experienced with this team over the past seven years."

Moss hauled in both scoring passes, including the go-ahead touchdown on a 65-yard bomb in the fourth quarter, to give him 23 for the season. That broke the previous mark set by Jerry Rice in 1987.

"Breaking Jerry Rice's record wasn't special to me. Shutting up all the critics is what made it special," Moss said. "My mind-set was to come out here and have a (heck) of a year. From day one when I took my physical, I knew it was possible because I knew what kind of team they had here.

"I didn't want to pass up becoming a New England Patriot and playing championship-caliber football."

The Miami Dolphins in 1972, who completed a 17-0 season en route to winning the Super Bowl, are the only other team to finish a perfect regular season with at least a 14-game schedule.

The Brady-Moss connection showed how lethal it can be on back-to-back plays early in the final quarter.

With New England trailing, 28-23, Brady fired a long strike for Moss that was a bit underthrown down the right sideline. A wide-open Moss tried to reach back for the ball but dropped it.

On the very next play, Moss ran an identical route down the right sideline and Brady hit him in stride for 65 yards. Maroney ran in for the two-point conversion and a 31-28 lead with 11:06 to play.

"I wish I would have made a better throw on the previous one," Brady said. "Then, I tried to throw it as far as I could and it doesn't get any better than that."

Cornerback Ellis Hobbs intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning at midfield on the ensuing possession and the Patriots took advantage.

Maroney finished off a nine-play, 52-yard drive with a 5-yard TD run to extend the margin to 38-28 with 4:36 to play.

"One mistake on offense and one mistake on defense, and that's the game," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "Those are the plays that cost us. With a team like that, you've got to play perfect."

Manning brought the Giants back downfield, hitting Plaxico Burress with a 3-yard scoring pass with 1:04 to play to pull within 38-35.

But the Patriots recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock to preserve the magical season.

"We obviously made some plays tonight," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We moved the ball down the field, we got some distribution to other players. The frustrating part about that is to play as hard as we did and then to lose."

Manning matched a season high with four touchdown passes but the one interception proved costly for New York, which already had wrapped up the No. 5 seed in the NFC. He finished 23-of-32 for 251 yards.

"We had nothing to lose," Manning said. "Just go out and play hard."

Wes Welker had 11 receptions for 122 yards and Moss made six catches for 100 yards and the two TDs.

Brady completed 32-of-42 for 356 yards in rallying the Patriots.

Buoyed by a last-second touchdown to close the first half, the Giants carried the momentum into the second half.

After forcing the Patriots to go three-and-out, New York mixed some power running by Jacobs with the passing of Manning to forge a double-digit lead.

Burress made a beautiful 19-yard catch in the corner of the end zone to built the Giants' lead to 28-16 with 9:12 left in the third period.

"The Giants are a good football team and they gave us all we can handle tonight," Belichick said. "There are things we need to do a better job of and hopefully we will fix them for the next time out. We didn't play our best football game today."

It was the largest deficit this season for the Patriots, who had rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Indianapolis in Week Nine.

New England responded on its ensuing possession and pulled within 28-23 on Maroney's 6-yard run with 4:00 to go. Brady hit five consecutive passes on the drive, including a 28-yard to Welker.

The Giants had sent an early message that they would not be intimidated, moving 74 yards in seven plays to take a 7-0 lead on the first possession of the game.

Manning capped the drive with a 7-yard toss to Brandon Jacobs, who broke one tackle before lunging across the goal line. A 52-yard pass from Manning to Burress set up the score.

"We kind of set the tempo, saying we're here to play," Manning said.

After Gostkowski's first field cut the deficit to 7-3, New England went ahead on the first play of the second half.

Brady tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Moss to give the Patriots a 10-7 lead. setting off a chain of records for the New England and a costly celebration by Moss.

It was the 49th TD pass of the season for Brady, tying Peyton Manning's mark, and 22nd scoring pass for Moss, matching Rice's record.

A penalty for taunting by Moss was levied on the ensuing kickoff, which Domenik Hixon returned 74 yards for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead.

Two more field goals by Gostkowski, of 45 and 37 yards, nudged New England back into the lead, 16-14, with 1:59 to play in the half.

Again, thought, the Giants showed this would not be another walkover for the Patriots.

Manning was superb in directing the two-minute drill, moving the Giants 85 yards in just 1:45 and capping the march with a 3-yard scoring pass to rookie tight end Kevin Boss with 13 seconds left to give New York a 21-16 lead.

Boss, playing due to the season-ending injury suffered by Jeremy Shockey, also had a 23-yard reception on the drive and finished the half with four catches for 50 yards.

"We lost," Giants receiver Amani Toomer said. "I'm not into the whole valiant effort thing. They are a great team, but we had them on the ropes."