EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Stripped to the essentials, it’s just a throw and a catch.
But toss in a handful of large, angry pass-rushing Giants planning to hold a reunion on Tom Brady’s chest, then sprinkle in a dose of defensive backs and the occasional linebacker trying to glue themselves to Randy Moss, and the hookup begins to approach the complexity of a military operation.
Even so, nobody has done it better.
The Brady-Moss combination ended Saturday night where no other quarterback-wide receiver duo ever has: fittingly, on a new page in the NFL record book, along with the rest of their unbeaten Patriots teammates after winning a hard-hitting 38-35 shootout against New York.
“Whatever they were, I’m happy they got them,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said about the handful of records his team broke. “But I’m more happy for the team.”
By throwing two touchdown passes to Moss, Brady took over the single-season TD mark at 50 from Peyton Manning and helped his sidekick wrestle the single-season TD reception record away from Jerry Rice with 23. The record-setting connection came on a 65-yard strike up the right sideline, just one play after Brady underthrew a wide-open Moss at close to the same spot.
But the second time was magic.
“I just tried to redeem myself,” Brady said, “and threw it as far as I could.”
As for who gets to keep the record-setting ball, Brady added, “Good question. The highest bidder, I guess. But he’s got his hands on it now.”
“I told him,” said Moss, with a devilish smile, “I’ll give my kids half and you give your son half.”
And just for good measure, New England added another score after that to burnish its 16-0 record and finish the regular season with a staggering 589 points, obliterating the single-season NFL scoring record of 556 that belonged to the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.
“I still think it’s hard to throw one touchdown, I really do,” Manning said recently. “We’ve had some games where we’ve thrown one around here, and it’s hard to get it in the end zone. So for him to be on pace for whatever it is,” he said, “is a great accomplishment.
“And when it happens,” he added, “I’ll call and congratulate him.”
When the season began, it wasn’t just Brady, the 199th pick in the 1999 draft, who was restless to avenge the loss to Indianapolis in January’s AFC Championship Game, the last time these Patriots have lost a game. During the offseason, Scott Pioli, New England’s player personnel wizard, somehow separated Wes Welker from the Dolphins in a trade, picked up Donte’ Stallworth in free agency and then pulled off his biggest coup, liberating Moss from the Raiders for a fourth-round pick.
Everyone in the Patriots organization had wondered for years what Brady could do with a receiving corps to rival Manning’s of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Now the rest of the NFL knows the answer, too.
Welker and Stallworth enabled the Pats to spread defenses and create mismatches all over the field, and New England’s offensive line, already the league’s best at pass blocking, raised its game accordingly.
But make no mistake. Moss is the difference-maker, the man defensive coordinators can’t afford to lose track of. In much the same way he changed the offensive dynamic on that record-setting team in Minnesota, where Moss arrived as the 21st pick in 1998 after sliding down the draft board because of concerns about his attitude and a checkered past, he’s done it again in New England.