September 21, 2003
Breaks Eventually Go The Way Of The Patriots
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- This game should have been lost early in the second quarter.
This statement may sound a bit negative, but in reality it helps describe what the 2003 Patriots are truly made of. The Patriots overcame early offensive blunders inside the Jet 5 yard line, losing three key starters to injury, losing a critical replay review which gave the Jets the ball on a turnover at the Patriot 13, and several other questionable offensive play calls down the line, and still managed to top an opponent they seemingly can't beat at home. Even with the Jets in their depleted state, the even-more-depleted Patriots gritted out a win which will do wonders for the team psyche in the long run.
Finally getting a Tuna-sized monkey off their back, the Patriots recorded their first home victory over the Jets in a coon's age (actually, five years). Not since Mike Jones blocked a John Hall chip shot field goal late in regulation in the first game Bill Parcells coached for the Jets against the Patriots have the men in blue managed to beat the men in green in the town of Foxborough. The final score was Patriots 23, Jets 16, and it was taut and tense right up to the glorious and gratifying finish.
The game was nearly lost in the very beginning, as the Patriots nearly gave the game away by committing sins that are usually very deadly for a team playing against either an inferior opponent or a natural rival. On their first two drives of the game, the Patriots found their way inside the Jets' 5 yard line, but in each case came away with only Adam Vinatieri chip shot field goals. The Jets were able to feed off these two early gaffes and play the Patriots tough in a game where the Patriots pretty much should have had things in control.
On their first drive, the Patriots drove 67 yards to the Jet 3, thanks to a nifty 7-yard run by Troy Brown on a botched reverse right and a 32-yard pass catch by Daniel Graham in which Tom Brady had about ten seconds to throw. Even though Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk rushed for a combined 33 yards on the drive, Charlie Weis called for a Larry Centers run on first down, which was predictably stuffed for no gain. After an incompletion and a sack of Brady by Shaun Ellis, the drive ended.
The next drive saw the Patriots start once again at their own 30. They drove 66 yards to the Jet 4, second and goal. Instead of running Smith again (he and Faulk combined for 31 yards rushing on that drive), Brady drops back for a play action pass and gets sacked by Bryan Thomas. Now into the second quarter, Brady tries to lob a pass over Mo Lewis and towards a wide-open Brown in the end zone. The pass went over Brown too, and the drive ended.
Fortunately, the Jets didn't have much to counter with. The third down defense for the Patriots was fantastic (they held the Jets to only 1-for-13 in third down conversions). Wayne Chrebet seemingly caught a 32-yard touchdown pass on the left sideline, but before he caught the ball he stepped out of bounds and was guilty of an illegal touch. And the Jets gave the Patriots a gift in the second quarter by turning down a 34-yard field goal by Doug Brien and attempting a fake field goal on fourth and three. Punter Dan Stryzinski rolled out right and tried to hit center Kevin Mawae on a deep right flat pattern, but the ball was just out of reach of Mawae.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this game for the Patriots is that Curtis Martin was held to only 53 yards on 15 carries and a 3.5-yard average. This was done despite Ted Washington leaving the game after the first Jet offensive possession with a leg injury, never to return. This development forced Testaverde to carry the offensive load all on his own shoulders, and despite playing fairly well all game long, he simply couldn't do it all.
Washington's injury headlined a sick ward that also included David Patten and Ty Law. Patten seemed to sprain an ankle after making a 20-yard right sideline reception in the first quarter. Then Law went down just before halftime after getting his feet caught between Chrebet and Roman Phifer as the latter was defending the former (the pass was incomplete). Law would return late in the game, the others did not.
Brady can also be counted among the wounded. He finished with 15 of 25 passing for 181 yards, but seemed to misfire on several passes during the game. He repeatedly threw on the sidelines during the Jet offensive possessions, and was looked at frequently by the training staff. It was obvious all game long that his injured elbow is still not one hundred percent.
The game had several turning points, one of which should have been a back breaker for the Patriots. Leading 9-6 early in the third quarter, Brady rolled right and attempted a flat pass. Chester McGlockton came from behind and batted the ball right out of Brady's hand just as his arm was going forward. It was ruled a fumble, and James Reed picked up the loose ball and rumbled to the Patriot 13. Bill Belichick asked for a review, and memories of the Snow Bowl naturally abounded. But this would have required referee Walt Anderson to overturn himself. Despite replay showing that Brady's arm was indeed coming forward, albeit by a fraction of an inch, Anderson upheld his own call.
Instead of momentum turning to the Jets, the Patriots snatched it right back. Three plays produced only one yard and the Jets had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Brien. The Patriots then proceeded to ring up 14 quick points, driving 73 yards and having Brady cap it off with a one-yard run, and on the first play after the change of possession, Asante Samuel hauled in his first career interception and returned it 55 yards for a score. Barely five minutes after Brady's fumble, it was 23-9 Patriots.
This may be picking nits at this stage of the game, but Weis showed an annoying habit of not running the ball in situations which screamed for runs, and for not using Smith (a slightly over 4 yard average per carry) more in the red zone on a day where he was gaining good yardage all game long. The first drive was one example, where Centers was used instead of Smith. In the fourth quarter, when the Patriots got the ball back after a Brien missed 42-yard field goal, there was 7:10 left in the game and the Patriots needing to run time off the clock. Instead, Weis called for three passes and Brady misfired on all of them (the last one had Sam Cowart dropping a sure pick), and the Patriots burned a grand total of 13 seconds.
Weis did wise up later in the quarter, burning 3:16 thanks to four Faulk runs, and the final 1:47 of the game thanks to three Smith runs. This only goes to support the claim that, against a Jet run defense which has done miserably all year long, the big guys either weren't always used at the right time, or used period. As a team, the Patriots totaled 147 yards rushing and a 4.1 average.
The Patriot defense played another inspired game, and they literally had to. Featuring a blitz package used extensively last week against Philadelphia, Testaverde frequently had to make quick decisions and fire into coverage. Tyrone Poole had a great game in blanketing Curtis Conway, and Tedy Bruschi led the defense with two tackles and seven assists.
The Patriots will now turn their attention to their wounded, and wonder how much longer the owies will keep coming up. But they will have big smiles on their faces, knowing that despite getting banged up, the defense still came up big and defeated an opponent which usually beats them in their own crib.
And it's doubtful that any Patriot hates Belichick right now.
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