By: Bob George/
September 17, 2006

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E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It took a screwy play to open the floodgates, and it took the heart of a champion to close them back up.

The Patriots dominated the New York Jets for the first 38 minutes and 30 seconds of the game on Sunday at Giants Stadium. Then, as if hit by a lightning bolt, the Patriots suddenly became a team which forgot how to tackle. The Jets went on to score 17 unanswered points after the Patriots had opened the game with 24 of their own.

Fortunately for the Patriots, Tom Brady was able to stop the bleeding with a clutch fourth quarter drive that killed off almost the entire clock, and the Patriots escaped with a 24-17 win over the pesky Jets, who did give the Patriots a tough battle after the Patriots completely dominated most of the early part of the game. The Patriots nearly blew a 24-0 lead in the process, but as champions do, the Patriots simply found a way to win.

It was two completely different games within one whole. The first game saw the Patriots win, 24-0. The Jets won the second one, 17-0. The Patriots bludgeoned the Jets with superior talent, a bruising running game, and the reemergence of Brady being able to find numerous receiving targets. Both Chad Jackson and David Thomas caught their first pro passes, and both Jackson and Laurence Maroney registered their first NFL touchdowns in the process.

But the "second game” may stick in the craw of the Patriot coaching staff for a while, certainly a lot longer than it will in the fan base. The Patriots allowed the Jets to get back in a game they had no right to be in, as the game morphed into a hail of missed tackles and lousy pass defense. Chad Pennington, who has hurt the Patriots in years past, found his range and began to hit open receivers with more regularity. But two of the receptions were taken to the house when they should have been only moderate gains, and missed tackles were the reason why these plays went the distance.

The first such zany play took place with 6:30 left in the third quarter. Facing third down and 13 at their own 29, Richard Seymour blasted in on Pennington and forced him to hurry a throw. Pennington got the throw off before he was blasted by Seymour. The throw found Jerricho Cotchery wide open in a zone seam near the right sideline at the Jet 48. He was hit high by Chad Scott and low by Eugene Wilson seconds after he caught the ball. Miraculously, despite the high-low crushing applied by the Patriot defensive backs, Cotchery never allowed his elbows or knees to touch the ground, as he was able to lean on Wilson's back and prevent himself from hitting the ground. Cotchery got up and ran the final 48 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown to make it 24-7 Patriots. It was probably the most unusual non-tackle in recent Patriots history.

On that play, Seymour was called for roughing Pennington, which was assessed on the kickoff, to add salt in the wound.

In addition to missed tackles, Brady also got careless with the football. The next two Jet scoring drives would come off turnovers, one an interception on a deep ball to Doug Gabriel which David Barrett picked off, the other on a Brady fumble caused by a blitzing Kerry Rhodes. Barrett's interception at the Jet 19 sent the Jets off on a drive which led them to the Patriot 46, facing third and nine.

Again, on third and very long, Pennington was able to work miracles. He saw a Patriot blitz coming and managed to hit Laveranues Coles on a hot read crossing pattern moving right to left. Then the fun really began, as three Patriots missed tackles and Coles was able to take it all the way. Wilson missed shortly after the catch, then Coles turned and ran upfield as Mike Vrabel missed a tackle. Then, close to the goal line, Coles put a terrific move on Ellis Hobbs, forcing him to miss. The Jets now trailed, 24-14.

After the fumble recovery on the next Patriot drive (Rhodes caused the fumble, but Bryan Thomas recovered at the Patriot 49), the Jets drove to the Patriot 14 before a clutch sack of Pennington by Vrabel and Seymour set up a 42-yard field goal by Mike Nugent. That pulled the Jets to within seven at 24-17. The key play on that drive was a 12-yard pass to Cotchery for a first down where Tedy Bruschi missed a sure tackle on the play.

At this point, the Patriots had just given up 17 points on three straight drives. 9:14 remained in the contest, and Brady had the Patriots on their own 30.

To his credit, Brady killed off nearly all of the remaining 9:14. Only a Corey Dillon run which came up a few inches short of a game-clinching first down ruined that sort of ending. But Brady managed the clock and the game perfectly, completing clutch third down passes to Reche Caldwell, Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown along the way. The Jets were forced to burn all three of their timeouts along the way. It got all the way down to the two-minute warning when Dillon tried to get to the Jet 6 for a game-clinching first down but was stopped a few inches short, resulting in a chip shot field goal try by Stephen Gostkowski. Jonathan Vilma blocked the attempt and made the last seconds of the game a little interesting, but Pennington fired a Hail Mary pass with 15 seconds left that Bruschi was able to pick off to seal it.

Despite letting the Jets back into the game, the Patriots had plenty to be happy about, though the poor tackling will likely be addressed in great detail this week. Brady was able to find seven different receivers (so did Pennington), with Brown getting the most catches (four). Perhaps the best surprise here was the debut of rookie Chad Jackson, who caught two passes for 42 yards and a touchdown, the first of which was caught while being double-teamed. He did drop a sure 50-yard scoring toss a few plays earlier, but he did have a nice debut for the Patriots. So did rookie David Thomas, whose first NFL pass reception went for 29 yards along the left sideline.

Again, the Patriot running attack went perfectly as planned. Dillon tallied 80 yards rushing, Laurence Maroney 65. Both men averaged four yards per carry. This combined total of 145 is the key, as this figures to be the way they will be used all year long. Both men were fresh as a daisy in the final quarter, and both men were featured prominently in the final drive which almost killed off the clock. Both men also scored rushing touchdowns, Maroney's being the first of his NFL career.

Once up 24-0, it seemed that Brady got careless and the coaching staff got conservative. Prior to that, the Patriots were literally having their way with the Jets and could have wound up routing the Jets had they stayed with what they were doing. Brady's first-half passer rating was 108.5, yet he finished with only a 73.9 figure. The bad tackling was the bigger problem, but Brady not playing sixty consistent minutes himself is also cause for some discussion this week.

The Patriots are 2-0, and could very easily be 0-2. But many important questions are being answered, and Brady will adjust to the new personnel over time. As for the defense, that's just a matter of some butt kicking in practice which will take care of bad tackling. This Patriot team is still capable of lots more wins over the long season, and these early scares from inferior teams can only help to make the team better when the better teams come calling later on.

Blocking and tackling. You have to do both for sixty minutes. Nobody needs to be reminded of that old maxim.