Editor’s Note: This is the 10th and final installment of cover32’s 2007 Patriots series, looking back at one of the greatest season’s of all time. The entire series has been bittersweet to produced amongst all of our writer’s, so we hope you enjoyed most of it. If you missed any part of the series, be sure to follow the links below.
The 2017 NFL Season marks the tenth anniversary of the 2007 New England Patriots–often considered one of the best NFL teams of all time. The Patriots became the first (and only team to date) to go 16-0 in the regular season. The offense put up a then-record 589 points (36.8 points per game average) while the aging defense was good enough to finish fourth in the NFL. Allowing just 17.1 points per game.
While the Patriots were an offensive juggernaut, in retrospect the team had a number of flaws overlooked by their record. In reality, there were four games the Patriots trailed in the fourth quarter. Even splitting those games would have left the Patriots 14-2 and removed all the ridiculous pressure in the Super Bowl in an attempt for a perfect season.
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Here are those four games:
In week nine they beat the then undefeated Colts coming back from 20-10 fourth quarter deficit.
The Eagles had a 28-24 lead in the fourth quarter before the Patriots came back to win in week twelve.
The luck held the next week when the Ravens coughed up a fourth quarter lead with the Patriots scoring with less than a minute to pull out the victory.
Finally, in week sixteen the Patriots fell behind the Giants 28-16 in the third quarter before a furious comeback allowed the Patriots to outscore New York 22 to 7 in the last 20 minutes of the game and finish the regular season undefeated.
In retrospect, that final game against the Giants and those other three tough games (three of the four being in the second half of the season) should have taken some of the shine from the 16-0 regular season. Instead, the storyline heading into Super Bowl 42 was the invincible Patriots heading to their date with destiny. The team was on the cusp of being anointed the greatest in NFL history.
The Path to the Super Bowl
In the Divisional round of the playoffs, the Patriots were 13.5 point favorites against the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a lackluster first half which ended in a 14-14 tie, the Patriots pulled away to win 31-20. Brady completed 26 of 28 for 262 yards and three touchdowns and Laurence Maroney pounded for 122 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. Randy Moss, however, had just one catch for 14 yards.
In the AFC Championship game, the Patriots were 14 point favorites over Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. The Patriots overcame three interceptions by Brady and Moss was again held to one reception yet they beat a hobbled Chargers squad 21-12. Rivers was playing with a torn ligament in his knee and hung in against a furious pass rush in one of the most overlooked but gutsiest performances in the modern NFL.
Unfortunately for San Diego, the NFL’s leading rusher LaDainian Tomlinson was not inspired by his quarterback. He left early in the game with a minor knee injury and finished with just two rushes for five yards.
Looking back at this Patriots team with a decade of hindsight, it is easy to see why this team should not have been 12 point favorites coming into the game. The Giants’ defense—other than a hiccup in week 17 against the Patriots—had not given up more than 22 points in seven of eight games. The pass rush was one of the best in the league heading into the Super Bowl. Eli Manning was on a hot streak in the playoffs. In addition, the running game had been a top-five attack in the regular season.
However, in the moment it was all about “19-0”, “the Undefeated Season”, and “the greatest offense in NFL History” heading into Super Bowl 42.
The Game, Super Bowl XLII
Before kick-off, Alicia Keys had one of the better pregame musical performances. The Patriots came out as a unit to their usual anthem, “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne, led by Tom Brady and Tedy Bruschi. After the teams were on the field, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks belted out a powerful rendition of the national anthem.
The Giants received the kickoff and—despite injury concern—wide receiver Plaxico Burress was active for the Giants and on the field in the starting lineup at University of Phoenix Stadium. Burress was a game-time decision and Manning got him right into the flow of the game completing the first pass of the game to him for 14 yards on third-and-five on the first series of the game.
On third-and-six Manning found Steve Smith for eight yards. Then, Ahmad Bradshaw converted a third-and-one with an eight-yard rumble through the beefy New England defensive line. The Giants converted four of five third downs as Smith added a nine-yard reception on third-and-seven before stalling on the New England 14 yard line. They settled for a field goal. However, the Giants’ 16 play drive ate up almost ten minutes of the first quarter.
With Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, and Richard Seymour up front, the Patriots’ defense allowed the tenth fewest yards on the ground in 2007. However, the run defense may have been overrated. This is due to teams rushing the fewest times against them and often playing from behind. The defense gave up a gaudy 4.4 yards per rush as veterans Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau were starting to show their age and the addition of veteran Adalius Thomas did not mitigate the decline at the linebacker position.
Trailing 3-0, the Patriots put their fan base at ease driving down the field on a 12 play drive. It was topped off with a one-yard touchdown run by running back Laurence Maroney keyed by a big block by tight end Kyle Brady. Maroney rushed four times for 15 yards on the first drive and Heath Evans added another two yards rushing. The Patriots never got the running game back on track after that first drive.
Maroney finished with 36 yards rushing for the entire game on 14 attempts. Evans never had another carry after the first drive and Kevin Faulk did most of his damage in the passing game. In 2007 Maroney had rushed for 835 yards and 4.5 yards per carry. The Divisional round saw him rush for 122 yards on 22 carries. In the AFC Championship game, he added another 122 yards on 25 carries.
Against the Giants in Super Bowl 42 after his one-yard touchdown on the first drive, the Giants defensive front dominated the Patriots’ running game. Maroney went for 1, -2, 0, and -3 yards in the rest of his first half carries. In the second half, he went for 7, -2, 0, 9, 2, and 9 yards rushing as he rushed just six times. After 47 rushing attempts in the two prior playoff games, the Giants made a point to stop Maroney and not let him go off and extend drives.
After taking a 7-3 lead, the Patriots went punt, punt, and fumble in the first half with two three-and-outs. They wasted a chance to put their foot the Giants’ throat early after New York drove inside the New England 20 after a 38-yard completion to Amani Toomer. Cornerback Ellis Hobbs intercepted Manning at the 10-yard line and set-up New England to swing the momentum of the game.
After finding Maroney for eight yards on first down, the Giants’ defense tightened. Osi Umenyiora stuffed Maroney on second-and-two. Then Michael Strahan blew-up the third-and-one rush by Maroney, dropping him in the backfield for a two-yard loss. The Patriots punted and wasted an early turnover by Eli Manning.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Patriots took over at their own 30-yard line. After Maroney was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by Justin Tuck on first down, the Giants’ defensive line began to gain confidence. They began to dominate the New England offensive line. Sacks by Kawika Mitchell and Tuck forced a punt. This gave New York great field position at their own 43-yard line.
Fortunately, the Patriots’ defense tightened up again after letting the Giants march inside their 30-yard line. Again, another chance to open up the game was lost on the Patriots as Eli Manning fumbled after being sacked by Adalius Thomas. An illegal batting call on running back Ahmad Bradshaw pushed the Giants back out of field goal range and forced a punt.
With just under two minutes in the half, the Patriots converted a third-and-thirteen and another third down but burned two timeouts. Only crossing midfield with less than 30 seconds left. On the next play, Justin Tuck forced a fumble sacking Brady and again stopping New England from putting points on the board.
The Second Half
The futility of the New England offense that Sunday night was on full display. They opened the second half by having their first drive saved by a Bill Belichick challenge for 12-men on the field, catching the Giants in confusion on fourth-and-two. After a 3rd-and-13 conversion, Brady was sacked by Michael Strahan on third down at the Giants’ 25-yard line. Rather than attempt a 48-yard field goal, the Patriots went for it on fourth-and-thirteen. They failed and turned the ball over to New York on downs.
The third quarter saw back-to-back punts before the Giants opened the fourth quarter with a play that they allegedly drew up on the sidelines. Catching safety Rodney Harrison cheating up towards the line of scrimmage in run support, tight end Kevin Boss ran a seam route past Harrison. He caught the ball for a 20-yard gain. Harrison tried to knock the ball loose. However, Boss switched arms and rumbled another 25 yards before a shoestring tackle by Harrison brought him down.
The drive ended with David Tyree giving the Giants the lead with a six-yard touchdown reception. Since the Patriots had wasted so many opportunities on offense, they found themselves in Glendale, Arizona in the fourth quarter losing 10-7 to the New York Giants. Even trailing, the offense could not get on track. A holding penalty cost field position on the punt return and New England started at the 11-yard line. After a first down, they punted the ball back to New York.
The defense held at last as the Patriots started bringing huge pressure. Eli Manning missed a huge play escaping pressure, missing a wide open Plaxico Burress. On third-and-nine the Patriots brought another blitz. A huge tackle by Rodney Harrison kept Amani Toomer a yard short of the first down marker. That forced a punt with just over eight minutes to play.
After getting the ball back, Tom Brady went 8-for-11 for 71 yards passing on the drive. It was capped off by finding Randy Moss in the end zone on third-and-goal from the six-yard line. What was notable looking back on this drive was how “Classic Tom Brady” the drive was on that night: in the shotgun with the spread offense, receivers running quick crossing routes, some play-action, wide receiver screens, and even a draw play for positive rushing yards.
The Patriots stopped looking for the big play with Randy Moss which the Giants had prevented all game. Brady worked the underneath passing game and finally mitigated the New York pass rush with an extended drive. Tuck, Strahan, and Umenoya all had to come off the field at some point during the drive. This was due to having expended so much energy with their ferocious pass rush all game.
The Patriots led 14-10 with less than three minutes to play in the Super Bowl. At this point of the game, all the New England defense needed was to make a stop. One stop and the Patriots would be the first NFL team to ever go 19-0.
The heartbreaking conclusion
After Manning threw two dangerous passes into double-coverage, New England had the Giants facing third-and-ten at their 28-yard line. Manning, under pressure, found Amani Toomer just short of the first down marker. On fourth-and-inches, the defense was again handed a chance to make a stop and win the game for the Patriots.
Instead, Brandon Jacobs went right over Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour to pick up the first down. On first down, Adalius Thomas forced Manning out of the pocket and Manning fumbled but recovered the ball. He would have been down by contact anyway.
More wasted opportunities
The wasted opportunities on defense continued on the drive. With 1:20 to play, on second-and-five Manning was hit and lobbed a lollipop into the hands of Asante Samuel on the sidelines. With David Tyree slowing up on the route Samuel leapt with no interference from any Giant. The ball bounced right off his hands, giving the Giants another chance. Then “the helmet catch” happened.
Under pressure, Manning escaped pressure up-the-middle and from his left on third-and-five. He lobbed the ball into the middle of the field. Tyree leaped and pressed the ball to his helmet coming down as Rodney Harrison tried to rip the ball away. It was an amazing individual effort by Manning to escape the pressure, and by Tyree to somehow hold onto the football.
Instead of fourth down, the Giants were at the New England 24-yard line. With a first down and less than a minute to play, all the momentum had switched to New York’s side. Blitzing again, Adalius Thomas brought down Manning and forced the final timeout by New York. The New England defense was clearly gassed at this point. The cameras caught them during the timeout with their hands on their knees, their helmets off, and breathing heavy and gasping for breath.
On second-and-eleven, another ill-advised pass by Eli Manning floated over the hands of New England’s young safety Brandon Meriweather. Nowhere near a wide receiver. It was just another missed opportunity for the defense on this drive. With another chance to stop the Giants on third-and-eleven, Steve Smith got open on the right sideline. Smith caught the ball and did a great job to both stay in bounds and get the first down in front of Meriweather.
On first down, the Patriots blitzed and left Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress in man-coverage with cornerback Ellis Hobbs. Burress left Hobbs in the dust. An inside-out, slant-and-go move, for all intents and purposes, ended the game and the perfect season for New England. The Giants had taken a 17-14 lead with less than a minute to play.
This game came down to missed opportunities for the Patriots on both sides of the ball. Passes that get caught by the receivers in New England all season were missed. In addition, Brady’s passes were slightly off-target due to pressure. The offensive line missed blocks that got made each and every week. Game-changing fumbles were not recovered and potential interceptions hitting defensive backs’ hands were not caught. This game saw a Patriots’ team off by just a fraction of an inch.
Of course, the Giants’ defense deserves all the accolades they received. It was a great game plan by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The secondary—especially Corey Webster—shut down Randy Moss much of the game. The pass rush, led by Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora was as ferocious and tenacious as legend has recorded their performance. On top of that, Manning and the New York offense came up big when they needed to.
10 years ago it was a terrible loss for New England in the Super Bowl. The team had invested so much effort. They had come from behind multiple times to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. On top of that, they had faced adversity on and off the field. They had introduced a number of new players to the “Patriots Way”. However, it all came down execution on a Sunday night in Glendale, Arizona. What should have been a coronation was just another quest for a perfect season.
However, the lessons of this game from almost 10 years ago were evident in Super Bowl 49 and 51. The furious finish by the offense, overcoming the soul-crushing miracle catch by their opponent, instead of failure, Tom Brady was able to complete a furious comeback and the New England defense stepped up with huge plays in the fourth quarter to earn rings number four and five.