American Football: Mara inspires Giants as Bruschi rallies Patriots

Last week, the Giants' much-loved owner, Wellington Mara, passed away at 89. One of the most respected figures in the sport's history, Mara had inspired generations of players, and it seemed as if the current crop of Giants felt they owed their one-time mentor a special send-off.

They certainly produced one, thrashing the Washington Redskins 36-0 in one of the most one-sided games of the season. The result was all the more extraordinary because the Redskins were considered favourites.

Instead, they were engulfed. The New York running back, Tiki Barber, gained a personal best of 206 rushing yards, the second-highest tally in team history, and his fourth-quarter touchdown run set the seal on a famous win.

Barber's performance was all the more poignant because he had been one of two current Giants to visit Mara the night before he died. "The emotion and circumstance of last week, to be able to have my best day, was something I'll never forget," he said. "We did what Mr Mara would have wanted us to do - carry on."

Inspiration was also in the air in New England, where the linebacker Tedy Bruschi returned to action just eight months after suffering a mild stroke.

Bruschi's return was met with a standing ovation and, duly motivated, his side rallied past the Buffalo Bills with two late touchdowns for a 21-16 triumph.

Bruschi has been one of the key players in the team's run of three Super Bowls over the past four seasons, and his return should galvanise the franchise after an uncertain start to the current campaign.

"Getting this game under my belt means a lot to me," he said. "I didn't jump into this, I prepared myself the best I could. It feels good to be back doing what I love."

* A spectator ran on to the field and stole the ball from the Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre during the Cincinnati Bengals' home victory on Sunday. The fan, later arrested, took the ball from Favre's right hand and sprinted towards the end zone before being tackled by security personnel. "I wasn't scared of him," Favre said. "Believe me." On the next play, Favre was sacked.