By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 27, 2005

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On September 21, 1970, the Jets visited Cleveland Stadium and lost to the Browns, 31-21.

On December 26, 2005, the Jets hosted the New England Patriots and lost, 31-21.

This was a cute ironic twist on what otherwise was a total domination by the Patriots over the Jets. While the Patriots could still go down in history as the first team to win three straight Super Bowls, the Jets played in the first and last Monday Night Football games on ABC and lost both games by the same score. The Patriots will take the Super Bowl legacy any day over the Jet legacy (one other interesting tidbit: in that inaugural game, the Jets were two seasons removed from a Super Bowl win; in the final game, so were the Patriots, and we refer to Super Bowl XXXVIII, of course).

The score was closer than the game was. The only things preventing this game from being a complete mess (and possibly second straight shutout) were a wistful trip down memory lane by Ty Law, and the fact that Artrell Hawkins cannot defend Laveranues Coles. Other than that, the Patriots suffocated the Jets, to the point where the Jets did not get their first first down until 3:52 left in the third quarter, and the Jets had only 28 total net yards in the first half. Mike Vrabel amazingly caught two touchdown passes and became the first NFL player in 23 years to score two touchdowns and register a sack in the same game.

The game could have been disastrous for the Patriots in victory. Tedy Bruschi was lost to a leg injury in the first quarter, an injury where Bill Belichick is being his usual coy self (it's a "leg injury"; he won't even say if it's the ankle). Bruschi needed help getting off the field but did not look too distressed. Reports did come in saying that there was no fracture. Also, Asante Samuel left the game after getting his head clobbered in the first quarter, and Bethel Johnson was injured on the opening kickoff of the second half.

Despite the terrific job on defense (leaving Hawkins out of the mix), the most impressive element of this game was how stunningly efficient and methodical the Patriot offense was in attacking the weak Jet defense. All five scoring drives for the Patriots took 11 or more plays. Four of those five drives took six and a half minutes or more. The Patriots finished the game having held the ball for 43 minutes and 21 seconds, well over two-thirds of the game.

The opening drive was a clinic on how a strong team should approach and attack a weak team on paper. Other than a 20-yard pass to Deion Branch, Tom Brady and the Patriots decided to feature the run. Corey Dillon had six carries for 28 yards, Kevin Faulk had two touches (one run, one pass) for 11 yards, Patrick Pass had two rushes for seven yards. The drive chewed up 8:03 of the opening period.

Never mind the numbers, it was the philosophy that was key. The Patriots needed to try and tune up the run blocking for the playoffs. You have a weak opponent on the road, and chewing up eight minutes is a good way to demoralize the team and to take the home crowd out of the game. Instead of a blitzkrieg assault on a weak secondary (Law excepted, of course), the Patriots showed the ultimate in patience and discipline on that drive, and the other long ones which followed. All four of the Patriot touchdowns were either one yard or two yard scoring plays (like Vrabel, Dillon also scored two touchdowns).

Watching Brady attack the Jet defense made him look like a half-surgeon, half-symphony orchestra conductor. Brady could be just as at home at Mass General or Boston Symphony Hall as he is at Gillette Stadium. There was nothing flashy about the Patriots at all, nothing spectacular, other than the results. Brady's passer rating was only 89.0, Dillon only averaged 3 yards per rush, and the leading pass catchers (Branch, Faulk) had only four catches. But when you are able to sustain that many long scoring drives and chew up that much clock, you can throw the raw stats out the window. This was a masterpiece by Brady and the coaching staff.

Give the Jets credit for at least trying to make a game of it. Law drew on all his practice experience against Brady and intercepted him in the first quarter. David Givens ran a curl out route, Brady lobbed the pass right in there, but Law, who had to know exactly what was coming, darted in front of Givens, snatched the pass and ran 74 yards for a touchdown. Just like he did in Super Bowl XXXVI, Law raced down the left sideline untouched for the score. It made the game 7-7 at the time, and the Jets kept the momentum going for a while by stuffing the Patriots three-and-out on each of the next two drives.

In the fourth quarter, with the Patriots leading 28-7, the Jets finally reeled off a long scoring drive. Coles finished the 14-play, 75-yard drive with an 11-yard toss to Coles for the touchdown. Brooks Bollinger lobbed a fade pass and Coles, who had a step on Hawkins, made a nice over-the-shoulder catch. Coles also beat Hawkins later on towards the end of the game; Vinny Testaverde, in the game only for sentimental reasons (he announced that he will retire at season's end), fired a 25-yard scoring toss to Coles who again beat Hawkins on the right side. The touchdown pass enabled Testaverde to pass Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton as having thrown at least one touchdown pass in the most consecutive seasons (19 now for Testaverde).

The Patriots are now 10-5. With a win at home next Sunday against Miami, coupled with a Cincinnati loss at Kansas City, the Patriots can nail down the three seed in the playoffs. If either game turns out the other way, the Patriots are the four seed and will host Jacksonville (who will get starting quarterback Byron Leftwich back at practices) in the first round of the playoffs. If the Patriots get the three seed, they will host Pittsburgh (if they beat Detroit at home) or Kansas City (if the Steelers lose and they beat Cincinnati).

Sentimentally, it is nice for the Patriots to say that they won the final ABC Monday night game. For a team which clinched two AFC East titles on the show (1986, 1997, both at Miami), had two home games marred by horrid fan behaviour (Jets in 1976, Broncos in 1980) and went 14 years between Monday night home games, saw a seven-minute standing ovation for Darryl Stingley (1979), were brutalized in the rain by Baltimore's Joe Washington (1978), lost their head coach to the University of Colorado just prior to a game (1978), and were in the process of losing to Miami on the night that John Lennon was shot to death (1980), the Patriots did themselves proud. On a stage usually dominated by John Madden, Jerry Rice, Bruce Smith and Lawrence Taylor, the last image you all will have of this historic NFL package is the two-time Super Bowl champs doing what they do to a hated division rival. The Patriots are 13-21 on ABC on Monday nights, worst in the AFC East in terms of win percentage (the Colts, who spent most of 1970-2005 in the AFC East, also had a better record than the Patriots).

So, let Dandy Don Meredith croon away. Turn out the lights, the party's over. Tomorrow starts the same old thing again.

What's that, coach? Plan for Miami.


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