|Patriots cornerbacks Ellis Hobbs (27) and Asante Samuel were dancing on air after Hobbs's fourth-quarter interception of an Eli Manning pass. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)|
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Ellis Hobbs and the rest of the Patriots found themselves back where it all began last night.
The Patriots opened the season here with a 38-14 victory over the Jets in September, Hobbs providing one of the season's more memorable moments with his 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. It was the longest play in NFL history at the time.
Hobbs came up with another scrapbook memory last night as the Patriots closed out the regular season against the Giants. His interception with 10 minutes left led to Laurence Maroney's 5-yard touchdown and the decisive points in the Patriots' 38-35 victory that completed the first 16-0 season in NFL history.
"You think about all the plays in that game," the third-year cornerback said. "The negatives, the positives. None of that mattered at the end because we got the W."
All's well that ends well - that best sums up the evening for Hobbs in particular and the Patriots' defense in general.
New England allowed a season-high 35 points as Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes. Manning's first strike came on the opening drive as the Patriots allowed an opponent to score a touchdown on its first possession for the first time in 23 games.
Hobbs was victimized by Plaxico Burress for a 52-yard reception down the middle of the field on the Giants' second play from scrimmage. He then saw Burress get the better of the deal three plays later with a 10-yard catch good for a first down.
That sequence might have shaken some players, but not Hobbs. Even though he has regularly been mentioned as a "weak link" in a Patriots secondary that includes the likes Asante Samuel and Rodney Harrison, Hobbs always has played to his strengths.
"One thing Ellis doesn't lack for is confidence," Harrison said. "And at the defensive back position, you have to have a short memory. We understand you're going to get beat. You just have to keep at it, and Ellis made the big play at the right time."
The Giants took a 28-23 lead into the fourth quarter, but saw it evaporate as the Patriots hit a home run with Tom Brady and Randy Moss connecting on their historic, 65-yard touchdown. A 2-point run by Maroney and it was 31-28 in favor of New England.
The Giants found themselves with a second and 6 at their 27 when New England called time out. They came out of it with Manning dropping back and looking at Burress and Amani Toomer.
Randall Gay picked up Toomer, who was running the "go" route, while Hobbs went with Burress, who had the "sell" route. Manning's deep ball down the left missed its mark as Hobbs came up with his first interception of the season.
"I just read the quarterback," Hobbs said. "He overthrew the ball and I was able to get it."
That turned out to be the only turnover of the game, and it proved to be a big one by a player who handles the glare and the adulation that comes with standing in the spotlight.
"I call him Hollywood Hobbs," defensive end Richard Seymour said. "He's a guy that's been very consistent for us. He's a tough, hard-nosed football player. He can do a lot of different things. He brings a lot to the table.
"He's a great teammate to have. He brings a lot of energy. He's a fun guy. So to see him come up with a play like this, in a game of this magnitude, is very special for him."
And for the Patriots, who started their season and ended it in the same place with the same result.