By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 16, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH -- Whoever made the point this week that Tom Brady is in somewhat of a postseason slump knew what they were talking about.

Not much was made concerning this point all week long. All you heard about was the verbal slop coming out of the New York area. In every postseason game Brady has played in since the Patriots' last Super Bowl win not against Jacksonville or the Jets, his passer rating numbers are as follows: 74.0, 57.6, 79.5, 66.4, 82.5 (Super Bowl loss to the Giants), 49.1. Nobody worried about Brady this week, everyone figured that he would take all the Jet trash talk and shovel it right back in their faces.

But such retribution was not to be. Two critical mistakes by the Patriots in the first quarter, including the seemingly inevitable first interception thrown by Brady in a coon's age, set the tone for the entire game and gave the Jets all the bravado and confidence they would need. The Jets played an inspired game on defense, shutting down the Patriot receivers most all game long, then hung on in the end for a 28-21 AFC Divisional playoff win over the Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The Jets will play at Pittsburgh next weekend for the AFC Championship.

History be damned in a number of ways. The Patriots have now lost two straight home playoff games after not losing at home in the postseason since 1978. The Patriots lost their first AFC playoff game in team history following a bye week in the Wild Card round. Rex Ryan wins at Gillette Stadium for the first time following blowout losses in 2009 and 2010. The same time management issues which bedeviled Donovan McNabb in the waning moments of Super Bowl XXXIX defined the fourth quarter for the Patriots.

But most of all, Brady is cutting into his impeccable reputation as being an elite postseason quarterback. Though much of the reason for the loss was good to excellent pass coverage by the Jet back eight, his interception early on in the game was a poorly thrown ball on a screen pass which the Jets clearly smelled out and blew up, and it set the tone for how the rest of the game unfolded. Brady's passer rating was 89, which isn't terrible, but he needed a much better day and simply could not dial it up.

The interception took place on the eighth offensive play of the game for the Patriots. Brady had led the Patriots from their own 16 to the Jet 28 with relative ease. Then on first down, Brady play-faked to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, then rolled right to set up a screen to Green-Ellis. Brady's pass sailed about three feet over Green-Ellis's head and right into the arms of linebacker David Harris, who took the throw and lumbered 58 yards before Alge Crumpler cut him down at the Patriot 12. But the Patriots caught a break when Nick Folk barely missed a 30-yard field goal attempt.

So back came the Patriots, driving from their own 21 to the Jet 7 in eight plays. On second and goal at the 7, Brady found Crumpler in the end zone, only he dropped a perfect pass with minimal coverage from Dwight Lowery. After a sack of Brady by Shaun Ellis, Shayne Graham kicked a 34-yard field goal. Crumpler's dropped touchdown pass was more damaging than the interception, but the pick did more to set the tone rather than anything else.

Bill Belichick will also take some lumps from this game for some questionable coaching strategy at some points in the game. Wes Welker was "benched" during the first drive of the game, seemingly for his subtle press conference early in the week when he used several references to feet and toes to needle Ryan. Welker did come back on the second drive, and his absence was more inconsequential than anything else, but it did seem to get things off on the wrong foot (absolutely no pun intended).

At the end of the first half, facing fourth down and four at the Patriot 38, Belichick called for a fake punt. Patrick Chung was to take a direct snap and run off right tackle for a first down, but Chung bobbled the snap and was stopped for a yard loss. Mark Sanchez took over and put the Jets into the end zone just four plays later, hitting Braylon Edwards from fifteen yards out with 39 seconds left in the first half to make it 14-3 Jets at the half. Chung simply blew the play, but a punt probably keeps it 7-3 with the Patriots getting the ball to begin the second half.

The fourth quarter was puzzling at best and tragic at worst. The Patriots went on a McNabb-esque time consuming drive down 21-11 at the time. The Patriots took over on their own 18 with 12:55 left in the game, then proceeded to burn 7:36 off the clock before Brady misfired on a sideline pass to Deion Branch on fourth down and 13 at the Jet 34. The Patriots would get the ball back after a three-and-out, but they could only get a 35-yard field goal by Graham just after the two-minute warning.

The long drive gave the Patriots very little time to mount an adequate comeback. They had to onside kick, and Antonio Cromartie returned the onside kick 23 yards to the Patriot 25. Two plays later, Shonn Greene iced the game with a 16-yard touchdown run around right end, and a late Patriot touchdown was too little, too late.

The early miscues gave the Jets a lot of confidence, and it helped their defense play to the level they failed to do so in December. They went with a lot of packages where they rushed three and covered with eight, and Brady continually had problems finding open receivers despite having a lot of time to throw. Brady was sacked five times, all but one of them being basically coverage sacks. Branch didn't come up for air until 2:51 left in the third quarter.

The Patriots have now lost three straight postseason games, with no win since the 2007 AFC Championship Game. The Patriots seem to be in the same funk they were in when they blew their perfect season in Arizona three years ago, despite a 14-2 regular season with some impeccable football along the way since their last loss at Cleveland. It's almost like the veneer the Patriots used to have in the early part of last decade has been sandpapered off, and the Patriots have suddenly become tight and nervous when January rolls around.

Losing to the Jets will be particularly galling. The Jets did all the talking all week long, but once again, suffered no consequence on the field. Ryan is now 3-2 against the Patriots in his Jet career. They get to go to Pittsburgh, and who's to say they can't rise up on the road and beat the Steelers in their crib, something the Steelers have been known to do in AFC Championship games of years past.

As for the Patriots, the youngsters now know what it's like to be in the playoffs, and unfortunately, to lose in the playoffs. There aren't enough veterans still left on the team with any rings, so the transfer of heritage is somewhat wanting. The Patriots are still set up well for the future, but for right now, a season of being the number one playoff seed is now down the tubes. Sure, Atlanta lost also, and neither Super Bowl participant from last year is still alive in the playoffs.

But the Patriots have to head home, and the Jets move on.

And the Yankees got their heir apparent to Mariano Rivera in Rafael Soriano. Looks like this was a nice week for New York.


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