Congratulations are in order: I don't know about you, but the way in which Tom Brady eventually broke Peyton Manning's single season record for touchdown passes was the way that you want to see a record broken. When he tried to get his 50th touchdown pass with that little dink pass to linebacker Mike Vrabel in the third quarter when the Patriots had a first-and-goal at the one, I was glad to see Vrabel drop the ball. In the normal course of NFL action, that's not a play you would see a coach or quarterback call — taking a chance on an interception on first down when your team needs points and you have a running back capable of blasting his way into the end zone. But in the fourth quarter, Brady hoisted a pass from his own 35-yard line simply trying to get his team in position to win the game. And after dropping a similar effort on the previous play, wide receiver Randy Moss showed that second chances can pay off, sprinting with the ball after the catch to complete a 65-yard play that was a thing of beauty to watch.
Admirable: Count me among the many people this past week who didn't expect the Giants to have the talent balance or the fortitude to keep pace with the Patriots. I figured even if both teams kept their starters in, the Giants would have needed to have been spotted 14 points before the game started to make a real game of it. But you have to admire their pride and determination as they came out of the gates fast and didn't quit even after they fell behind. Kudos to Tom Coughlin and the Giants organization for making a commitment to trying to win a game that meant nothing to the team's playoff positioning, but that provided a memorable and entertaining event for NFL fans across the country.
Moss' feat: Congratulations are also in order for Randy Moss, who has brought life back into his NFL career this season after languishing a bit during his previous three seasons. Moss failed to register 1,000 receiving yards in 2004 during his final year in Minnesota, and last year posted a mere 553 yards during 13 game appearances in Oakland. While paired up with Brady, he finished the 2007 regular season with 1,493 yards — his second-best single-season total — while catching 23 touchdowns to break former 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice's record. Unlike Brady's record, Moss' will have one small asterisk in that Rice caught his 22 touchdowns in 12 games during a strike-shortened season in 2003.
On a roll: Giants linebacker Reggie Torbor statistically turned in one of the best performances of his four-year career. The 2004 fourth-round pick made seven tackles, sacked Brady for a ten-yard loss and was credited with three quarterback hits. On special teams he contributed a team-leading two tackles and one assist.
Wes Welker lowers his head for a few extra yards against Giants defender Antonio Pierce.
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Game MVP: Sure, Randy Moss and Tom Brady get all the attention in New England, but how about Wes Welker? Take away Moss' 65-yard catch and he would have finished the night with five catches for 35 yards. Meanwhile, the blue-collar Welker caught 11 passes for 122 yards, chipping away at the Giants all night, finding soft spots and darting his way to extra yardage to keep the chains moving seven times for New England. It was his fourth 100-yard receiving performance of the season to push his season total to 1,175 yards — not too shabby for a guy who had just 96 receptions over the past two seasons in Miami. His 112 catches this year is now tops in the league by nine catches over Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who wraps up his season today against the Dolphins.
What were they thinking? (Giants version): You'd think that by the end of the season New York would have figured out how to manage the clock better late in a game when down by two scores. The offense looked disorganized, Eli Manning looked unsure of himself, and the hometown fans were right to chime in with a chorus of boos in response to the ineptitude after watching the team play so well. But don't lay the blame all at Manning's feet. It's tough to know how much of the indecisiveness was actually coming from the sidelines, adding to the confusion. During the Giants' 3-minute, 32-second touchdown drive, they lost roughly 20 seconds after a 2-yard run from the Patriots' 39-yard line and again after the subsequent play, a 10-yard pass to Steve Smith for a first down at the New England 27-yard line. But perhaps the most inexplicable waste of time was right after the two-minute warning, when you would have thought they would have figured out their next few plays in advance. But after completing a 12-yard pass, the Giants didn't get their next play off until 1:22 remained on the clock even though they still had a timeout to work with. And then they threw an incompletion to boot. If the Giants want to avoid a one-and-done playoff appearance, they better get that cleaned up.
What were they thinking? (Patriots version): New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork is one of the most talented at his position in the business. But he apparently lost his mind for at least a moment while jawing with Giants running back Brandon Jacobs. Evidently the referees missed him poking a finger inside Jacobs' facemask, nearly poking him in the eye, but the league office likely won't let that one go without some disciplinary action. And while I'm admittedly not among those who regularly praise Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, I admired the way he yanked safety Rodney Harrison off the field late in the game after the veteran foolishly committed a personal foul more befitting a rookie, while the Patriots were trying to hold off the Giants to secure their record-setting season. Belichick sent a positive message to his entire team with that move, showing that no one player is above the good of the team.
Giants running back Brandon Jacobs runs over Patriots safety Rodney Harrison.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Doing it all: Giants running back Brandon Jacobs wasn't just the top running back of the night, sporting a 4.5-yard average running the ball, he also caught a team-leading five passes, including one catch for a touchdown. Jacobs rolled up 111 total yards with 67 on the ground and 44 more with his receptions.
To the point: If you're a defensive coordinator who is trying to stop the Patriots — especially on third down — you better have your players in position to account for running back Kevin Faulk as a receiver anytime you see him on the field. Faulk caught all eight passes tossed his way Saturday night and converted three of those chances into first downs while averaging eight yards per catch. New England obviously saw him as a key component in their game plan since they only threw his direction that many times in one other game all year, back on October 28th against the Redskins when he was the target of nine passes.
A well-timed boost: Domenik Hixon's 74-yard kickoff return for a touchdown short-circuited the giddiness of the Patriots after they took a 10-7 lead at the start of the second quarter. That was the moment in the game that kept this one from turning ugly, giving the Giants a huge momentum lift that they rode through the early minutes of the third quarter. After surrendering a touchdown on the opening drive for the first time this season, and then allowing that huge return, New England's demeanor appeared to become much focused than it was during the first quarter of the game.
A little perspective: I really like Laurence Maroney. I really do. I think he's not only a talented performer, but a pretty solid, grounded guy to boot. But I hope that he'll think twice about his end zone demeanor, such as putting his index finger up to his lips to tell the opposing fans to be quiet during a game in which he was the quiet one, only averaging 2.4 yards per carry.
Ironic: Eli Manning finished the night with a higher passer rating than Tom Brady. Manning's 118.6 rating was powered by a 22-32 performance for 251 yards and four touchdown passes. He threw one inteception and was sacked just once. Meanwhile, Brady scored a 116.9 with his 32 completions out of 42 attempts for 356 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked once, but didn't throw any interceptions.
Rookie impact: It would have been easy to miss since his plays were intermittent, but Patriots rookie safety Brandon Merriweather was credited with four special teams tackles on the night, all of them solo efforts. He entered the game with just five solo special teams tackles and four assists this year.
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