Less than three minutes separated Randy Moss and the New England Patriots from the first 19-0 season in NFL history, but the All-Pro wide receiver knew victory was far from certain.
It was Feb. 3, 2008, and Moss had just hauled in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to give the Patriots a 14-10 fourth-quarter lead over the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
But 2:42 remained in the game, and Eli Manning would have one last chance to lead the Giants down the field.
“I was actually hesitant to kind of celebrate, because I knew there was a lot of time on the clock,” Moss told the Daily News. “Our defense wasn’t able to really slow down the Giants offense. With that much time on the clock, I just had to keep my fingers crossed and just hope that we could come up with a big play.”
The Giants, as it turned out, were the ones who made the big plays down the stretch. David Tyree’s improbable helmet catch put the Giants squarely in New England territory, and Manning’s 13-yard touchdown lob to Plaxico Burress four plays later proved to be the game-winner in their 17-14 upset.
Saturday marks the 10-year anniversary of that epic Super Bowl, and Moss remembers it well.
It’s also the day that Moss finds out if he will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
Although Manning was crowned Super Bowl MVP for his late-game heroics, the Giants’ swarming pass rush led by Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora deserves just as much credit for constantly pressuring Brady — fresh off an MVP regular season where he tossed a then-record 50 touchdown passes — and limiting his ability to throw downfield to Moss.
“There was really nothing they did against me,” Moss, 40, said. “They single covered me, they played in zone, they played in man. But the Giants’ game plan was if the Patriots are going to try to get the ball deep to Moss, we’re going to make them pay for it. And if they do get it off, he’s going to get hit. They had a very solid defensive game plan for them to really cut out a lot of things that we did well.
“They gave us fits, man,” he said.
Moss, who caught a record 23 touchdown passes during that regular season, finished with 5 receptions and 62 yards on 12 targets in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots were trying to become the first team to complete an undefeated regular season and postseason since the NFL switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978. The 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only team to achieve a perfect season that ended with a Super Bowl title, though they did so when the regular season was 14 games.
“Now that I reflect and look back, it would’ve been a great accomplishment because of how hard it is to do something like that,” said Moss, who retired in 2012. “I still wish that we could’ve done it.”
Manning and the Giants would go on to beat the Patriots again four years later in Super Bowl XLVI, when Moss was no longer on the team.
The current Patriots roster looks far different than it did a decade ago, but the sustained excellence of Brady, 40, has them back in the Super Bowl once again.