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Published Feb. 4, 2008

Randy Moss remembers the Patriots beating the Giants in Week 17 to finish the regular season 16-0.

He recalls catching a go-ahead touchdown pass from Tom Brady to set season records for both players.

What he still is a little foggy about is the Giants' claim that they won something that night.

"I don't know where the moral victory column is," the 10th-year receiver said. "I know there's a win and a loss column, but I don't know about a moral victory column."

Yet listen to the Giants long enough and you will be convinced that never has so much been gained by a 38-35 loss: confidence, momentum, unity.

By going toe to toe with arguably the best team in NFL history, the Giants had a springboard to the playoffs that led to victories at Tampa Bay, at Dallas and at Green Bay.

Perhaps nobody benefited more than quarterback Eli Manning, who had been scrutinized for throwing 19 interceptions and 19 touchdowns entering the Dec. 29 game.

Although the game meant nothing in the grand scheme of things - both teams had locked up their playoff position - the Giants players lobbied coach Tom Coughlin to rest no one.

Manning played his best game of the season, throwing four touchdowns with one interception. But Brady was a little better, completing 32 of 42 for 356 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

''I think both (teams) benefited from that game," Coughlin said. "But that benefit is still spiraling. By that, I mean that what one team did, the other team studies and then the other team says to itself, 'They know I'm studying this. Then what am I going to do to counter what they think they're getting?'

"But there's no doubt that having played against each other, you do have tape that you can look and you can see, exactly, your player against their player. And you go from there."

For just the second time all season, the Patriots trailed at halftime, 21-16 after Manning drove the Giants 85 yards in 1:46 and hitting rookie tight end Kevin Boss for a touchdown with 13 seconds left.

Manning's 19-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress left the Patriots trailing 28-16, their largest deficit of the season.

But defensively, there wasn't much upside for the Giants.

Remember, the Patriots were without offensive linemen Nick Kaczur and Stephen Neal as well as backup tight end Kyle Brady. They rallied for three touchdowns in the second half.

"I thought we played toe to toe with those guys," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "That is a good team. You have to play damn near perfect against them. You have to play perfect.

"But from a defensive standpoint, we didn't gain a thing. We gave up 38 points and lost the game."

Still, the Giants have a better understanding of how fast Moss runs, how hard Brady throws, how elusive Wes Welker (11 catches, 122 yards) can be after the catch.

"There's some stuff you see on film you actually have to see firsthand," Giants safety Gibril Wilson said.

"The way Moss runs, the way Wes Welker has to be tackled, the way you have to tackle (running back) Kevin Faulk, Brady's audibles. Those are things you have to experience live, and we did that."

For the Patriots' part, they learned the Giants are not a team to be taken lightly. But then again, it's hard to imagine them letting anyone stand between them and immortality.

''We certainly had our hands full in a very competitive game down there that could have gone either way with a play or two,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

"So we know what we're in for, and this will be a tough one."