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16-0

Patriots complete their perfect season, but Giants don't make it easy for them, as New England has to rally for a 38-35 victory.

December 30, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Super Bowl is more than a month away, but the New England Patriots have already got their ring. It's the circle on the right side of their 16-0 record.

Move over, Miami.

Make room on the mountaintop.

With a 38-35 victory over the New York Giants on Saturday, the Patriots joined the 1972 Dolphins as the only NFL teams in the modern era to win every regular-season game.

So monumental was the accomplishment, the league arranged for a three-network simulcast -- the first time since Super Bowl I that more than one network aired the same game.

"You work all year to try to win every game," Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. "And to be able to win them all is great."

But perfection wasn't always pretty. New England had to overcome a 12-point deficit in the second half and didn't reclaim the lead until Tom Brady hit Randy Moss for a 65-yard touchdown with 11 minutes to play.

That long-bomb touchdown came just one play after a similar heave to Moss -- one slightly underthrown -- that slipped off his fingertips and fell to the turf. So the second pass was instant redemption.

That do-over score, coupled with a successful two-point conversion, gave the Patriots a 31-28 lead, and gave Brady and Moss each a piece of individual NFL history.

It was the 50th touchdown pass of the season for Brady, who eclipsed Peyton Manning's record, and the 23rd touchdown reception by Moss, who passed Jerry Rice.

So who gets to keep the ball?

"Good question," Brady said. "Highest bidder, I guess. Actually, he had his hands on it, so it's his. That's OK, because I've got a jersey and a lot of memories stored up here."

Moss, who was acquired from the Oakland Raiders in April in exchange for a fourth-round pick, said he derives the most pleasure not from breaking Rice's record but from proving naysayers wrong about him. The widespread opinion on him was he was a churlish malcontent whose best days were long gone.

"Shutting you guys up is what makes it special," he said, speaking to a large group of reporters. "All the negativity and all the critics. It's really a good feeling to come in and have a good season like this, to have confidence in myself that I can still get it done.

"My mind-set was to come out here and have a hell of a season."

Moss scored two touchdowns, but teammate Wes Welker had 11 catches for 122 yards, giving him an NFL-leading 112 receptions.

Both quarterbacks played beautifully. New York's Eli Manning completed 22 of 32 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns. Brady connected on 32 of 42 for 356 yards with two touchdowns.

At least twice in talking to reporters, Brady referred to being down by "10 or 11 points" in the game. That he sincerely didn't realize New York's lead was 12 points could be an indication of how calm he was, how the notion the Patriots might lose never entered his mind. And he wasn't alone.

"I've never doubted this team for one moment," safety Rodney Harrison said. "I said we're going to get the ball, go down there and score. We're going to be right back in the game. Their guys were mouthing off to us, and I just looked at one of the guys, [cornerback] Sam Madison, and said, 'We're still going to win.' "

Such is the unflagging confidence of a team that set league records with 589 points and 75 touchdowns, and rolled over 10 opponents by 20 points or more.

Even some of the '72 Dolphins had to applaud.

"In this salary-cap era, free-agency era, I didn't think it could be done, and the Patriots did it," said Jim Mandich, a tight end on that team. "They are a remarkable team. They're terrifically coached, and if somebody was going to tie the Miami Dolphins' record in the regular season of going unbeaten, it's appropriate that it would be the Patriots because they're a class act."

But one of his old teammates, Bob Kuechenberg, pointed out something that the Patriots can't stop stressing: Zero losses in the regular season means zilch when it comes to postseason play. The top-seeded Patriots get a week off before playing host to a divisional game.

"Now the exhibition season is over and the real season begins," said Kuechenberg, who played guard for the Dolphins. "Obviously, if they can win their first playoff game, beat an even more dangerous Colts team, and then Brett Favre or the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, I will be the first to take my hat off to them. If they can pull it off, they will have earned it."

For quite a stretch Saturday, it looked as if perfection would go poof. Behind the outstanding play of Manning, running back Brandon Jacobs and receiver Plaxico Burress, the Giants not only stayed in the game but built a 28-16 lead they carried deep into the third quarter.

It looked as if they would do something that Philadelphia and Baltimore couldn't -- slam the door on pro football's biggest bully. But it wasn't to be.

"I thought we played toe-to-toe with those guys," said Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, whose team will play at Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs. "But you have to play four quarters."

Then again, nobody's perfect.

Well, almost nobody.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Broken records

Single-season records set by the New England Patriots:

MOST WINS (UNDEFEATED)

2007 PATRIOTS

16 WINS

1972 DOLPHINS

14 WINS

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TEAM SCORING

2007 PATRIOTS

589 POINTS

1998 VIKINGS

556 POINTS

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TOUCHDOWN PASSES

2007 BRADY

50 TDS

2004 MANNING

49 TDS

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TOUCHDOWN CATCHES

2007 MOSS

23 TDS

1987 RICE

22 TDS

Notes: Patriots also set the record for most TDs in a season; Rice's record was set during a strike-shortened season.

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