The Blue Eye

By A.F. Cook
Updated: December 31, 2007

VIRGINIA — Saturday Night Fever gripped the nation prior to the NFL matchup between the undefeated New England Patriots and the resurgent New York Giants Dec. 29.

But that affliction was well worth the sweats, heart palpitations, pre-game nausea and headaches of many of America’s football fans — especially Patriots fans — as the clocked ticked down to opening kickoff.

The game was, by any account, remarkable — maybe the best game of the entire 2007 season. The Giants, widely regarded as automatic underdogs, came out swinging.

The Patriots, the pressure of going 16-0 for the first time in NFL history draped on their collective shoulders, never gave up even when trailing by 12 points in the second half.

Both teams exemplified what it means to work together as a cohesive unit with the same mission: to win. Despite a couple of penalties and some alpha-male pushing and shoving, the game was also a pretty good demonstration of class by both clubs. The players did their loudest talking on their biggest plays.

//<![CDATA[ u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”> u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”>Randy nMoss was, once again, the most visible player on the field next to quarterbacks nTom Brady and Eli Manning — especially after he caught a spectacular 65-yard npass from Brady for the Pats’ go-ahead touchdown. Moss’ resilience is the most nobvious sign of his maturity as a player: that momentum-turning TD came on the nheels of a rare dropped pass by Moss just one play before. Facing the press nafter the game in tinted shades and a blue suit (unshaven, I might add, just nlike his teammates), Moss got blunt about what his Patriots experience has meant nto him. Responding to a question about what it meant for him to break Jerry nRice’s record for most passes caught in a season, Moss said the best part of his nentire experience as a Patriot was “shutting you guys up.” After all the nnegative coverage and questions about his dedication to the game of football in nrecent years, it must indeed be sweet to render the naysayers nspeechless.u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”> u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”>In nthe final game of what turned out to be a perfect 2007 regular season for New nEngland, we also have to give props to Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, whose nheight and grace allowed him to repeatedly outplay Patriots defenders, including na Moss-like pirouette on the edge of the end zone for his prettiest touchdown. nBurress has been nursing an injury, making his effort that much more noble. His nonly mistake came off the field, after the game, when he complained about the nofficiating. Think about when the Pats played in Indianapolis earlier this nseason and the penalties were tilted so heavily in Indy’s favor that the nofficials morphed into the equivalent of the Colts’ “thirteenth man.” I guess if nyou win against those kinds of odds, which the Pats did against the Colts, ncomplaining is beside the point. The odds weren’t tilted to anywhere near that ndegree against the Giants Saturday, if they were tilted at all (after all, it “,1] ); //–> //]]>

Randy Moss was, once again, the most visible player on the field next to quarterbacks Tom Brady and Eli Manning — especially after he caught a spectacular 65-yard pass from Brady for the Pats’ go-ahead touchdown.

Moss’ resilience is the most obvious sign of his maturity as a player: that momentum-turning TD came on the heels of a rare dropped pass by Moss just one play before.

Facing the press after the game in tinted shades and a blue suit (unshaven, I might add, just like his teammates), Moss got blunt about what his Patriots experience has meant to him. Responding to a question about what it meant for him to break Jerry Rice’s record for most passes caught in a season, Moss said the best part of his entire experience as a Patriot was “shutting you guys up.” After all the negative coverage and questions about his dedication to the game of football in recent years, it must indeed be sweet to render the naysayers speechless.

In the final game of what turned out to be a perfect 2007 regular season for New England, we also have to give props to Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, whose height and grace allowed him to repeatedly outplay Patriots defenders, including a Moss-like pirouette on the edge of the end zone for his prettiest touchdown. Burress has been nursing an injury, making his effort that much more noble.

His only mistake came off the field, after the game, when he complained about the officiating. Think about when the Pats played in Indianapolis earlier this season and the penalties were tilted so heavily in Indy’s favor that the officials morphed into the equivalent of the Colts’ “13th man.”.

I guess if you win against those kinds of odds, which the Pats did against the Colts, complaining is beside the point. The odds weren’t tilted to anywhere near that degree against the Giants Saturday, if they were tilted at all (after all, it //<![CDATA[ wasu003c/i> a home game for New York). In any ncase, blaming bad calls for a loss is the cheapest shot an athlete can take at nan opponent. While it couldn’t compare to the whinefest that came out of nBaltimore after the Ravens melted down in their matchup against the Pats, nBurress’ attempt to diminish the Pats win by blaming the officials was a sour nnote in an otherwise stellar effort.u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”> u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”>Here nI must give a nod to players on the winning team who we rarely see before the npress cameras. Kevin Faulk is seen as the Pats most unsung hero by many sports npundits, but he’s quietly pulled the Pats out of more third-down scrapes than I ncan count. I’m willing to bet the team would have had two or three losses on its nseasonal resume if Faulk hadn’t been there at key moments. Faulk was everywhere nhe needed to be last night, without the fanfare attached to Brady and Moss but nwith all of the productivity that allowed his teammates to shine. Ellis Hobbs nhad trouble containing the towering Burress, but he made a key interception just nwhen the Patriots needed it — and from there, New England was in the driver’s nseat.u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”> u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”>The nPatriots have kept their running game on the down low, but it’s starting to nemerge at just the right time: on the eve of the playoffs. Running back Laurence nMaroney started the first half doing what he often does — running into defensive nbrick walls. But he made his difference in the second half. In the Pats-Dolphins ngame the week before, Maroney seemed to take a page from the Colts’ Joseph Addai nas he broke free on two plays for a total of more than 100 yards. Maroney’s nemergence as a big playmaker is crucial, as the Patriots will face fast, nphysical defenses in their quest for Super Bowl win No. 4.”,1] ); //–> //]]> was a home game for New York).

In any case, blaming bad calls for a loss is the cheapest shot an athlete can take at an opponent. While it couldn’t compare to the whinefest that came out of Baltimore after the Ravens melted down in their matchup against the Pats, Burress’ attempt to diminish the Pats win by blaming the officials was a sour note in an otherwise stellar effort.

Here I must give a nod to players on the winning team who we rarely see before the press cameras. Kevin Faulk is seen as the Pats most unsung hero by many sports pundits, but he’s quietly pulled the Pats out of more third-down scrapes than I can count. I’m willing to bet the team would have had two or three losses on its seasonal resume if Faulk hadn’t been there at key moments.

Faulk was everywhere he needed to be last night, without the fanfare attached to Brady and Moss but with all of the productivity that allowed his teammates to shine.

Ellis Hobbs had trouble containing the towering Burress, but he made a key interception just when the Patriots needed it — and from there, New England was in the driver’s seat.

The Patriots have kept their running game on the down low, but it’s starting to emerge at just the right time: on the eve of the playoffs. Running back Laurence Maroney started the first half doing what he often does — running into defensive brick walls. But he made his difference in the second half.

In the Pats-Dolphins game the week before, Maroney seemed to take a page from the Colts’ Joseph Addai as he broke free on two plays for a total of more than 100 yards. Maroney’s emergence as a big playmaker is crucial, as the Patriots will face fast, physical defenses in their quest for Super Bowl win No. 4.

//<![CDATA[ u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”> u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”>Speaking nof defense: My hats off to Michael Strahan and company. They gave the Patriots a nrun for their money — but also prepped New England well for what they will face nin a couple of weeks. The Giants defense was a more mature version of what we nsaw from the Ravens. Until a couple of momentum-shifting events late in the nsecond half dampened the impact of their hard work, Strahan and the guys showed neveryone how you spell D-E-F-E-N-S-E. The Giants head into their NFC playoff nmatchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a great gift from the Patriots: nthey were given an opportunity to match themselves against the best of the best, nand they came out looking better than they have all season as a result. The nconfidence the Giants were able to take into their game against the Patriots— nespecially the confidence of Manning — should make them more than just a factor nin the hunt for the NFC Championship.u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”> u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt”>u003cspan styleu003d”font-size:9pt;color:#333333;line-height:150%”>As nthe NFL continues to grow, many black players are defining themselves not just nas great black athletes but as great athletes, period. The Patriots-Giants game nDec. 29, 2007, will be remembered not just for the Patriots’ notable naccomplishments — broken records and all — and the Giants’ valiant stand, but nfor the simple beauty of excellence. That excellence, by both teams, leveled the nplaying field in such as way that the only race on anyone’s mind was the race nbetween the game clock and history.u003c/span>u003c/p>nu003cp styleu003d”margin:0in 0in 0pt;text-align:center” alignu003d”center”>u003cfont faceu003d”Calibri” sizeu003d”3″>###u003c/font>u003c/p>u003c/div>”,1] ); //–> //]]>

Speaking of defense: My hats off to Michael Strahan and company. They gave the Patriots a run for their money — but also prepped New England well for what they will face in a couple of weeks. The Giants defense was a more mature version of what we saw from the Ravens.

Until a couple of momentum-shifting events late in the second half dampened the impact of their hard work, Strahan and the guys showed everyone how you spell D-E-F-E-N-S-E.

The Giants head into their NFC playoff matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a great gift from the Patriots: they were given an opportunity to match themselves against the best of the best, and they came out looking better than they have all season as a result.

The confidence the Giants were able to take into their game against the Patriots — especially the confidence of Manning — should make them more than just a factor in the hunt for the NFC Championship.

As the NFL continues to grow, many black players are defining themselves not just as great black athletes but as great athletes, period. The Patriots-Giants game Dec. 29, 2007, will be remembered not just for the Patriots’ notable accomplishments — broken records and all — and the Giants’ valiant stand, but for the simple beauty of excellence.

That excellence, by both teams, leveled the playing field in such as way that the only race on anyone’s mind was the race between the game clock and history.