The Patriots were minutes away from history. No team had ever gone 19-0, but the 2007 New England Patriots were about to change that. But Eli Manning and a no-name receiver had different plans and changed history forever.
The Team: The Patriots had the most prolific offense since 1950 (eventually outdone by the 2014 Broncos), and Randy Moss had arguably the greatest season a receiver has ever had. Tom Brady broke the passing touchdown record, throwing 50 touchdowns over the course of the incredible season. New England steamrolled team after team, winning each of their first eight games by at least 17 points and scoring at least 34 in each one. Over the entire season they only had four games decided by single digits, but the last game of the season was the game that would foreshadow things to come.
The Giants faced the Patriots in week 17 and the last game on the Patriots road to regular season perfection. New York never let up, and even held a five point lead heading into the fourth quarter. However, the Patriots scored 15 consecutive points and took advantage of a late Manning mistake to escape with the 38-35 win and finish the perfect regular season. But it would be the last time Brady and the Patriots escaped the Giants clutches as both teams would meet in Super Bowl XLII
The Game: The game seemed like a formality and the Patriots were being discussed as the greatest team of all time before it even started. All they had to do was get by the Giants dangerous defensive front and history would be theirs.
The game began fairly fast-paced, with the Giants going on a methodical 16-play 63-yard drive which took up 10 minutes on the game clock and resulted in a field goal. This was just the kind of drive the Giants needed against this Patriots to keep their offense off the field for awhile. Of course they couldn’t hold the ball forever, and when the Patriots got the ball back they went on a 12-play touchdown drive of their own to take a 7-3 lead.
Surprisingly, after the first two drives the scoring halted for a while, which played into the Giants favor. The next two Patriots possessions were quick three-and-outs where Brady was sacked twice. They had the ball one more time before halftime and seemed to be getting back on track with a nicely executed two minute drill. However, Brady was sacked at midfield and fumbled the ball, effectively ending the half 7-3. In these few of possessions it became clear that the Giants front four on defense could disrupt Brady while allowing the defensive backfield of the Giants to try and hold the receivers at bay.
The second half began much the same way. New England started with a 14-play drive that reached the Giants 31-yard line and included another sack of Brady. The Patriots went for it on 4th and 13 despite being in field goal range (48 yard kick), and on 4th down Brady overthrew Jabar Gaffney, giving the ball back to the Giants. The Giants struck two possessions later with a pass to Kevin Boss to the five-yard line setting up a touchdown pass to unknown receiver David Tyree (more on him later). The Giants took a 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter and the pressure began to build on the 18-0 Patriots. But they proved once again that they can handle that pressure as Brady drove them down the field and threw a six yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss to take a 14-10 lead with 2:45 left in the game. With New England’s defense playing so well, the touchdown seemed to be the seal on the 19-0 season the Patriots needed, but Eli Manning had other plans.
The Helmet Catch: The Giants took over with under three minutes to go in the game and Manning brought them to their own 44-yard line with 1:15 left and a 3rd and five coming up. What happened next rewrote history and made the no-name receiver David Tyree into a New York hero. Manning dropped back and was being tackled for what seemed like an inevitable sack but somehow Manning spun away from the tackle, backed up a few yards, and with three Patriots bearing down on him launches one down the field. Tyree was the only receiver in the vicinity and he’s blanketed by Rodney Harrison, one of the toughest players in the game. As soon as Tyree goes up Harrison is all over him to force the incompletion… but something goes wrong. Somehow Tyree manages to pin the football to his helmet with one hand. He secures the catch in what became known as the “helmet catch” and the Giants later scored on a 13-yard pass to Plaxico Burress.
The Result: That catch changed NFL history forever. The Giants completed the improbable upset by overcoming a 12 point spread 17-14 and beat the first 18-0 team in NFL history, halting their pursuit of perfection. The loss also set up the spectacular rematch years later, in which the Giants again came out on top, but that’s another moment for another day.