(The following is a recap of a simulation we performed in advance of Sunday's Super Bowl XLII. With permission from EA Sports, Boston.com utilized Madden NFL 08 for the xBox 360 console to predict the New England Patriots would defeat the New York Giants, 34-14 To view highlights from the simulation, watch the video above. And just so there's no mistaking it, we'll repeat it: The recap below is based on the simulation -- except the quotes; those we just made up.)
MY LIVING ROOM -- Move over defense. Maybe offense can win championships, too.
Tom Brady punctuated his own record-setting campaign by completing 27 of 35 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns as his vaunted New England offense piled up 535 yards in toppling the New York Giants, 34-14, in our Super Bowl simulation at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Perfection seemed perfunctory and the Patriots took much of the drama out of polishing off the first 19-0 season in NFL history by pulling away from the Giants before halftime entertainers Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers ever stepped on the field.
Tom Brady and the Heartbreakers must have been the opening act. What's more, they stole the show. Every time the Giants even threatened to make this a game, Brady and his receivers put the game out of reach with a big-play scoring drive.
Brady provided three first-half touchdown passes, including two to Randy Moss, as the duo delivered final arguments in their case to be remembered as the best single-year quarterback-receiver combination.
"This is why I came to New England," said the simulated Moss. "I remember telling Tommy before the season, 'If we play like we're capable, can't no one stop us.' And no one did."
When exactly will someone stop these Patriots? If the rest of the NFL wants to beat New England on the gridiron, they're going to have to beat them away from the field first.
Much of the success enjoyed by this 2007 squad hinged on the play of free agents-to-be, like Moss. After setting the NFL single-season record for touchdown receptions this year, Moss stands to be the most coveted free agent of the offseason, but the simulated Patriots indicated after Sunday's victory that they'd prefer to see Moss in a Patriots jersey for the rest of his career.
Regardless, Moss and fellow free agent-to-be Asante Samuel might have earned themselves a few extra offseason dollars with their play Sunday.
Trailing by a touchdown, the Giants marched to the Patriots 15 with 1:52 to play in the second quarter and a chance to tie the game before the intermission. Eli Manning audibled into a shotgun formation on a second-down play, but it didn't stop the Patriots' rush from forcing him to throw early. His back-foot offering for Plaxico Burress (who, by the way, predicted a Giants victory) came up well short of its mark and Samuel easily picked it off at the goal line before returning the interception to the Giants 22.
Three plays later, with the Patriots facing third and 4, Moss caught a bullet from quarterback Tom Brady on a comeback route in front of the Giants sideline. Moss's momentum carried him back across the first-down marker, but slot receiver Jabar Gaffney -- running a quick out underneath -- threw a block that sealed off a pair of would-be tacklers. Moss turned upfield and delivered a jarring stiff arm (seemingly taking out a postseason's worth of frustration with one vicious left hand) before kicking on the blazers. Showcasing some of that "The old Randy Moss is back" speed, the simulated Moss added a little Neon Deion showboating over the final 10 yards of a 72-yard touchdown reception that put the Pats on top, 21-7, with 1:19 to play in the half.
The Patriots other big-play wideout -- Donte' Stallworth, who also could find himself on the free agent market if New England declines to pay him a sizable roster bonus this offseason -- was not to be outdone. In the third quarter, Stallworth hauled in a comeback on the other side of the field. He slipped past Aaron Ross by freezing the corner with a with a brilliant juke move, then got a block from an unlikely source, running back Laurence Maroney, who had run a deep pass route out of the backfield.
The Giants' team pursued, but Stallworth kicked on his own blazers (remember that, earlier this year, Stallworth voiced his displeasure that Madden NFL 08 only ranked him a 91 for speed this season) en route to a 67-yard touchdown reception that put the Pats on top, 31-14, with 2:32 to go in the third frame.
Unlike the first meeting, there would be no fourth-quarter comeback.
The Patriots never landed a knockout blow (settling for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to cap a time-consuming drive late in the final frame), but the Giants might have ultimately been felled by a stomach punch from the simulated Bill Belichick with 9:05 remaining.
Tight end Michael Matthews appeared to reel in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Manning that would have made it a 10-point game, again. But Belichick had the red challenge flag on the field before Matthews could even spike the ball. Not only did the replay allow referee Ed Hochuli (strangely, refereeing his third Patriots' postseason simulation game in a row) to take six points off the scoreboard, but the Giants also turned the ball over on downs given that the play came on a fourth-and-goal situation (a situation created by a bend-but-don't-break defense, which previously stopped the Giants three times inside the 3).
So, Coach, too soon to start thinking about 38-0?
"We're going to enjoy this one for a while before we even start worrying about the next game," said the simulated Belichick. "I'm just so proud of our guys. This was a real special group and they're going to be remembered for a long time."
Asked to sum up a perfect season, Belichick paused as if searching for the perfect words to encapsulate the 2007 campaign.
"I'm not here to talk about the past," he said, with a simulated smile. "It is what it is."