History had Patriots fans feeling some trepidation heading into Sunday's game in New York against the Giants, a team that had beaten Bill Belichick's squad three straight times including a pair of Super Bowl upsets.
That anxiety reached a new height at MetLife Stadium as Tom Coughlin's squad carried a 17-10 lead into halftime that turned into a real scare when Eli Manning's troops took a 26-24 advantage on a 29-yard Josh Brown field goal with 1:50 to play Sunday evening.
But as he'd done 46 times before, Tom Brady put together a comeback drive to give Stephen Gostkowski the chance to silence his final few critics with a game-winning, 54-yard field goal with one second left to improve the Patriots to 9-0 on the year and retain hopes for the elusive perfect season that the Giants themselves ruined back in Super Bowl XLII.
The game was a concoction of big plays and curious calls by both sides. After Brady led a 14-play, 80-yard drive to the early lead on a 1-yard Scott Chandler touchdown catch, Manning answered quickly with an 87-yard catch-and-run score to Odell Beckham Jr. in which the Madden cover boy beat Malcolm Butler and eluded Devin McCourty's poor tackle attempt for the longest passing play allowed by New England in Belichick's tenure.
Rob Gronkowski notched his own, somewhat similar catch-and-run score in the fourth quarter when he gave the Patriots the 24-23 advantage by beating Brandon Merriweather and then a poor tackle attempt by Craig Dahl for the 76-yard score.
On New England's first day without key cog Dion Lewis and after watching Julian Edelman limp off with a foot injury in the first half, Brady overcame a pair of strip sacks, an interception and another close call to throw for 334 yards with two touchdowns for a 92.8 rating.
Defensively, playing without Jamie Collins (illness), New England's defense shut down the Giants running game (3.5 avg. on 23 attempts) and while allowing Manning to throw 361, Butler held Beckham Jr. in check the rest of the day and overall the unit made enough plays to win.
It was another dogfight with the Giants. But this one ended in Patriots celebration after the best kicker in football nailed the game-winner.
History scared some. Others got a ticker test by the Giants play on Sunday.
But none of it fazed Belichick, Brady, Gronkowski, Gostkowski, Butler, Rob Ninkovich or every other Patriots who came up big in the big road game.
"That was quite a game," Belichick said, almost exhaling in his postgame press conference. "There were so many elements to it. But in the end our guys made the plays that our guys needed to make.
"Give our players the credit. The Giants are a good football team. They gave us all we could handle."
They always have under Coughlin's direction dating back to the 2007 season finale. New England won that one. The Giants won three in a row and then, on Sunday in New York, the Patriots came away a winner once again to remain undefeated and stay on the track toward the postseason and trying to defend their latest Lombardi Trophy.
After the win Brady emphasized that he and the team could do things better but, "I'm glad we're 9-0. We didn't play our past, but we made enough plays in the end."
Win and move on. Leave the past in the past.
Here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the Patriots latest win, an impressive, exciting contest that came down the wire:
Rob Gronkowski –The best tight end in football was quiet, right up until he gave the Patriots the late lead with a big play. Gronkowski beat the combo of Merriweather and Dahl then put on his deceptive speed for the 76-yard score. Gronk finished with five catches for 113 yards getting the win in the game in which his Madden cover boy competitor Beckham Jr. had his own big play day.
Malcolm Butler – After getting beaten early by Beckham Jr. for an 87-yard touchdown on the opening drive – which could have been held to a much shorter gain by better safety play – the second-year cornerback had an impressive day matched up with one of the game's best receivers. Beckham had just three catches for 17 yards on 11 more targets aside from the long score. Butler was tremendous in a competitive matchup that even Beckham seemed to respect. Butler's best day and a sign he may be developing into a true No. 1 corner with a bright future.
Stephen Gostkowski – New England's Mr. Perfect remained just that against with a cold-blooded, game-winning, 54-yard field goal. Gostkowski also hit from 31 yards, having now nailed 30 straight field goals. He extended his NFL-record streak with three more PATs and put five of his six kickoffs into the end zone with three touchbacks. But on this day, Gostkowski's consistent greatness was most evident by his game-winning bomb to improve his standing as the best kicker in the game today.
Chandler Jones –The Patriots defensive end notched a second-quarter strip sack, which killed a potential Giants scoring drive. It gave Jones an NFL-best 10.5 sacks on the season. Jones had three tackles, but his forced fumble ended a potential scoring drive as did a sack by his endmate Ninkovich later in the big win.
Danny Amendola –With Edelman in the locker room with a foot injury, Amendola stepped up and came up big. He notched an 82-yard punt return that were it not for a friendly-fire trip by Duron Harmon would have been a touchdown. The receiver also came up big on offense, catching 10 of the 11 balls thrown his way for 79 yards, including a fourth-down reception on the game-winning drive to move the chains and extend the game. Amendola's role and production continues to evolve and impress.
Devin McCourty – McCourty is supposed to be the most experienced, consistent member of the Patriots young, new-look secondary. But the team captain struggled against the Giants. It began when he took a poor angle on an opening-drive completion to Beckham Jr. that the safety essentially turned into the huge 87-yard touchdown that is the longest allowed in Belichick's time in New England. Later McCourty was beaten badly by Rueben Randle for a 13-yard crossing gain, had a couple other missed tackles and got lucky when he left guys open but didn't pay for it. Just an overall bad day for McCourty.
Jonathan Freeny – The reserve linebacker saw a lot of action with Collins sidelined and Manning seemed to attack the career special teamer on a lot of underneath throws. Later, Jerod Mayo replaced Freeny and took advantage of more significant reps than he's been seeing. Freeny struggled both in coverage and tackling.
Duron Harmon –Harmon gets on this list just become of his trip of Amendola that took away a punt return score. He showed great hustle to get back with Amendola but then tried to skip just behind him and tripped the returner. Now that the game is over and it was a win, it's one of those funny plays Harmon will hear about in film session and from Amendola. But it wasn't quite as humorous at the time.
Scott Chandler – With Dion Lewis on IR and Julian Edelman sidelined early with a foot injury, the idea was that complementary weapons would step up. But Chandler was not able to do that. For the second time this season he finished with a stat line of just one catch for 1 yard and a touchdown. He had a huge drop on a potential big play and more than midway through the season has failed to build a rapport with Brady and carve out a role for himself in the offense, even with other weapons out of action.
What do you think of our lists from this fun, scary win? Let us know with a comment below!