EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Stripped to the essentials, it's just a throw and a catch.
But toss in a handful of large, angry pass rushers planning to hold a reunion on Tom Brady's chest, then sprinkle in a dose of defensive backs and the occasional linebacker trying to glue themselves to Randy Moss, and the hookup begins to approach the complexity of a military operation.
Even so, heading into Saturday night's regular season-ending game with a perfect record on the line against the Giants, the Brady-Moss combination was poised to go where no other quarterback-wide receiver duo ever has.
oring record.
``I still think it's hard to throw one touchdown, I really do,'' said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, whose TD record Brady has been eyeing for several weeks. ``We've had some games where we've thrown one around here, and it's hard to get it in the end zone. So for him to be on pace for whatever it is,'' he said, ``is a great accomplishment.
``And when it happens,'' he added, ``I'll call and congratulate him.''
Keep the phone handy, Peyton.
``The remarkable thing to me,'' said Dan Reeves, who's seen most of the great passing tandems during more than four decades as a player, coach and commentator in the league, ``is that they've come this far after only one season together.
``They're in my top five of all-time right now, hands down. You already had a guy there in Brady who can read defenses and throw the ball into a space the size of laundry basket when he has to. Then they add a guy in Moss who will go up over defenders or twist himself into a pretzel to catch the ball, if that's what's required.
``And on top of that,'' Reeves added, ``almost everybody in the stadium knows it's coming.''
When the season began, it wasn't just Brady, the 199th pick in the 1999 draft, who was restless to avenge the loss to Indianapolis in January's AFC Championship, the last time these Patriots have lost a game. During the offseason, Scott Pioli, New England's player personnel wizard, somehow separated Wes Welker from the Dolphins in a trade, picked up Donte Stallworth in free agency and then pulled off his biggest coup, liberating Moss from the Raiders for a fourth-round pick.
Everyone in the Patriots organization had wondered for years what Brady could do with a receiving corps to rival Manning's of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Now the rest of the NFL knows the answer, too.
Welker and Stallworth enabled the Patriots to spread defenses and create mismatches all over the field, and New England's offensive line, already the league's best at pass blocking, raised its game accordingly.
But make no mistake. Moss is the difference-maker, the man defensive coordinators can't afford to lose track of. In much the same way he changed the offensive dynamic on that record-setting team in Minnesota, where Moss arrived as the 21st pick in 1998 after sliding down the draft board because of concerns about his attitude and a checkered past, he's done it again in New England.
The Vikings put more emphasis on running that season than the Patriots have during this one, in part because they had a reliable weapon in 1,200-yard rusher Robert Smith. They also rarely came to the line with an empty backfield, a favorite Pats formation, in part because they had Randall Cunningham or Brad Johnson taking the snaps instead of Tom Terrific.
``I have never seen a QB play as well as Brady has played this season, and I have been around one of the greatest,'' Dennis Green, who coached that Vikings team and worked with Joe Montana during an earlier stint in San Francisco, told ESPN.com recently.
The question mark all along wasn't Brady, of course, but Moss.
He came to New England, an organization that doesn't suffer disciplinary problems or divas, and did everything he could to fit in. Moss toned down his me-first act, eschewed the touchdown dances and toed the party line in postgame news conferences. Most important, he reversed his reputation as a guy who takes plays off by blocking tenaciously when the ball winds up in a teammate's hands.
It didn't hurt that the rewards came fast and furiously, or that Moss finally wound up with a guy who could hold up his end in a game of throw and catch, no matter how many obstacles a defense puts up between them.
``If I break the record, I'm cool. If I don't, I'm cool,'' Moss said in the week leading to the game. ``Basically, what I'm saying is: I want to keep winning, the hell with the record.''
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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