With 7:16 remaining on the game clock in the fourth quarter Tom Brady set up in the shot gun with the Patriots facing a third and 11 on their own 24 yard line and an inauspicious nine point lead. Brady dumped a short pass off to the right flat for running back Kevin Faulk, but he was off target. Faulk bailed his MVP quarterback as he dove and stretched out to snag the pass before it hit the ground and then rolled to the first down.
"I just saw the ball and I just dove for it," said Faulk after the game. "It was the opportunity to make a first down and make a play for my team."
Brady said his pass "was a little low. I saw him open … He just made a spectacular catch."
That wasn't the only play Faulk made in the game. He was the Patriots' leading receiver as he made key grabs the entire game with eight receptions for 82 yards.
Following Faulk's drive saving catch, he came up with another one three plays later with 5:17 left in the game and the Patriots faced with a third and three. Brady found Faulk scampering across the middle, but again was off target as he felt some pressure from the Chargers' pass rush. The ball was thrown behind Faulk to his left hip. Somehow he was able to snag the ball with his fingertips without breaking stride for a 14 yard gain and another first down. The Chargers would never get the ball back in the game.
"That was one of the best catches I've ever seen," said Brady. "Kevin seems to get lost in the shuffle, but he does everything well … He does it in the most critical time in the game … Along with Randy Moss, he probably has one of the best hands on the team. Not many guys could have made that catch."
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) looks to pass as Kevin Faulk, center, tries to hold off San Diego Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper in the first quarter of the AFC Championship football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Since being drafted by the Patriots in the second round (46th overall) of the 1999 NFL draft, Faulk has quietly become the Patriots all-time leader in receptions for a running back, totaling 323 catches in his nine year career ahead of former all-pro back Tony Collins with 260 receptions. He also recorded at least 25 rushes and 25 receptions in each of the last eight seasons. Most importantly, in the Patriots two post season games, he is the leading receiver for the Patriots with 13 catches for 118 yards.
Faulk said he simply is ready to just do his job. "Real simple: Be prepared no matter what the situation is," said Faulk. "You might be in on third down, you might be in first or second down, we never know. If the opportunity comes, you have to be ready no matter what."
Faulk's running mate Laurence Maroney also picked up the slack for the offense as Tom Brady, with three interceptions, played one of his worst games of the year. Maroney ran hard, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown for the second straight game.
Faulk, who is one of the Patriots' captains, encouraged Maroney to be ready to make big plays. "It's just a sense of being prepared, being ready all year long. We heard the question about we didn't have a running game and all I told Laurence was, be patient; your time is going to come and your opportunity is going to come to move this team forward. That's what he's been doing the last couple of games in the playoffs and that's what we have to continue."
When asked about Faulk's clutch plays, Patriots' coach Bill Belichick said when the offense needs a big play "He's been big for us all year. We've had guys step up all year and Kevin and Laurence have done a great job for us and certainly did today."
Faulk has been a key cog in the Patriots' three previous Super Bowl Championship teams. As the Patriots ran out the clock for what will be Faulk's fourth trip to the Super Bowl, he said it's difficult to contain his emotions.
"Once the clock was ticking down, the emotion level just runs real high and I think the whole team is that way," said Faulk. "Just because of the feeling, it don't matter how many times you've been there or what you've done over the course of your career, when that moment comes, you can't hold your emotions. You can't hide them."
Emotions may be difficult to hide, but with teams focusing on Moss, Welker, and Stallworth, it's been easy for the Patriots to hide Faulk all season. He's been playing under the radar for the last nine seasons. Super Bowl XLII may be no different.