On December 29, 2007, Tom Brady connected with Randy Moss on a 65-yard touchdown pass. The score broke the passing touchdown record for Brady, and the receiving touchdown record for Moss. It also put the Patriots in front of the Giants for good, helping to cap off the first and only 16-0 season in NFL history. Unfortunately, we all know what happened in the rematch a little more than a month later.
But, what would’ve happened if Brady missed Moss again, and the Patriots had lost that game in December? Is it possible that losing that game could’ve changed the outcome of the Super Bowl?
Losing your perfect season on the last week of the regular season would’ve really sucked, but losing it in the Super Bowl was so much worse. No one cares that they went 16-0. It’s a record that no Patriots fan would ever bring up or talk about, simply because of the final outcome. It’s similar to the Warriors going 73-9 a few years back. Sure, they set the regular season record, but they didn’t win the championship, so the record they set means nothing in the end.
I assume, given the choice, every Patriot from 2007, and every Patriots fan, would take losing to the Giants in week 17 over what happened.
The problem is, it’s not that simple. It’s not a guarantee that they would’ve won the Super Bowl if they had finished the regular season with a loss. I think there are two logical outcomes, either they would’ve refocused, and been unstoppable in the playoffs, or they would’ve crumbled and possibly lost in the first round.
It has been widely reported that the week of practice leading up to the Super Bowl was not good, and that the players weren’t completely focused. Many have said that the pressure of trying to finish the perfect season was weighing on them significantly. Without that pressure, would they have been able to better focus on the task at hand? Or would losing their perfect season so late in the year have a more negative effect on their focus?
If they were, in fact, so focused on hitting that 16-0 mark, one would think that losing it on the last week of the season would be a crushing blow; something from which they may not have recovered. Imagine coming so close to a seemingly unattainable goal, and falling just short. In the record books, 18-1 just isn’t 19-0. Obviously, winning the Super Bowl is the #1 priority, but it seemed, that year at least, the regular season record mattered to everyone.
With Bill Belichick being the football historian that he is, there’s little doubt that he understood what was on the line, and what 16-0 meant. Hell, they pulled a Colts and put a banner up in the stadium, even after they lost the Super Bowl. That should be a clear sign as to how much it meant to the Patriots.
So maybe they wouldn’t have rebounded after all, and have lost early in the playoffs. It would have obviously been a massive failure, and we all would’ve been disappointed. But it wouldn’t have been the arguably worst loss in the history of sports, like Super Bowl 42. In my opinion, nothing comes close to that loss. Never has a team had more on the line and lost than the 2007 Patriots. Never has a team lost to such an inferior opponent on Super Bowl Sunday.
The Patriots and their fans collectively had their hearts ripped out of their chests. Twelve years and three Super Bowl wins later has only dulled the pain for us, and it will never truly go away, no matter how much time passes, or how many championships Brady eventually wins.
Of course, there are a few of the bigger missed opportunities in Patriots history in the game as well. Asante Samuel let the game-winning interception slip through his hands on the Giants’ final drive. And then, after the Giants scored, Brady threw one about 70 yards in the air to Randy Moss, in double coverage. One of the corners got a hand in between Moss and the ball at the last second, and knocked the pass away. If that pass gets completed, Moss probably scores, and the Patriots win the most insane Super Bowl in NFL history. Seriously, go back and watch that play, it is so close to being complete. I think about it at least once a day.
As with all of these exercises, we obviously can’t be sure about what would’ve happened had the Patriots lost the final game of the regular season. I, for one, think that it would’ve been a wake up call for them, and that they would’ve changed some things heading into the playoffs. Many say that 2007 is bizzaro-world 2001, for many different reasons.
It was obviously a huge upset, but it was a great defense shutting down an elite offense. Both the ‘01 Patriots and ‘07 Giants won out after losing to the team they would eventually beat in the Super Bowl. And, most importantly, it was about a team that was overconfident, and refused to adapt to the team punching them in the mouth until it was too late. If the Patriots had lost that game in December, it would’ve been a wake up call for not only the players, but also the coaches, and I think they would’ve been more willing to change an offense that had been so successful during the season because of it.
With a refocused team and coaching staff, I think the Patriots win Super Bowl 42. Of course, the season still would’ve ended with Mercury Morris and his teammates popping champagne, but I think Patriots fans would be fine with that ending.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats