January 07, 2007
Patriots Charge Past Jets, Head For San Diego
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Marty Schottenheimer, you're no Bill Belichick. And you're no Eric Mangini, either.
The Patriots won their second straight home Wild Card playoff on Sunday, throttling division rival New York 37-16, and in doing so bought themselves a trip to Mission Valley and a date with top seed San Diego next Sunday. Though the final score suggests a blowout, the Patriots didn't separate from the pesky and well-prepared Jets until halfway through the fourth quarter. Despite Mangini doing a nice job of coaching, he couldn't outdo Belichick this time and the superior Patriot talent won the game.
Well, coaching had something to do with the outcome. Opening up with heavy pressure on Chad Pennington, the Patriots made a critical adjustment following a stunning 77-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery early in the second quarter to give the Jets a 10-7 lead. From that moment on, the Patriots brought less pressure, allowed Pennington to complete a ton between the 20s, and the Patriots gave up only two field goals the rest of the way.
On that long touchdown pass, Artrell Hawkins, playing in cover two, failed to provide the right kind of safety help as Cotchery literally ran right by him in the formation. By the time Hawkins reacted, Cotchery took off down the right sideline and was hopelessly lost. From that moment on, the Patriots, with the help of former Jet Ray Mickens, protected the deep part of the field and let Pennington do his dink-and-dunk act, but providing some terrific red zone defense to keep the Jets out of the end zone for the rest of the game.
The Patriots, meanwhile, relied on Tom Brady and his playoff magic touch to manage a perfect game and carve up the Jet secondary with pinpoint passing. Jabar Gaffney hauled in eight passes for 104 yards, much of them right sideline passes. Brady threw two touchdown passes, one to Daniel Graham and one to Kevin Faulk, both of them on well designed plays. He directed the Patriots on four drives of ten or more plays, and finished with a passer rating of 101.6.
The Patriots also wanted to establish the run, and they succeeded. The Patriots rushed for 158 yards as a team, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Corey Dillon scored the first Patriot touchdown on an 11-yard run on the first drive of the game, a powerful right end gallop behind lead blocks by Heath Evans and Nick Kaczur. He shook off a fumble two drives later and bludgeoned the Jets for 5.3 yards per carry for the game.
It is hard to say that Mangini was outcoached by Belichick, given that he did do a pretty good job with game management, providing the Patriots with different wrinkles here and there, and the fact that the game was close until five minutes left in the game. But Mangini was outcoached, given that the Patriots played with more intensity than the Jets did, executed better, adjusted better, and did a better job of managing the game. The Jets did play the Patriots tough as advertised, but it took a Belichick-like game plan to enable the Patriots to win this kind of grudge match by three touchdowns.
For instance, the Patriots came right out and went into a no-huddle offense, which initially exposed cornerback Andre Dyson on Gaffney (Dyson was quickly replaced) and ultimately allowed the Patriots to score first and dictate the game from the start. Brady never took foolish chances, and threw deep twice (both to Chad Jackson, both incompletions) just to keep the Jet secondary honest. The Patriots were ready for all the blitz packages the Jets threw at them (Brady was sacked only once), and at times Brady had all day to throw. Defensively, the Patriots made sure that Pennington would bend but not break them with his precision short passing game.
Perhaps the crowning moment of the game was the fourth quarter touchdown pass Brady threw to Kevin Faulk. On third and goal from the seven, Brady was in the shotgun and audibled, with Faulk moving next to Brady in a blitz protection position. Brady took the snap, rolled to his right, looked over the middle and froze the linebackers, then dumped off to Faulk in the right flat as the Jets looked on, totally aghast. Faulk literally walked into the end zone and the Patriots led, 30-16.
School was out by then, but on the next Jet possession Asante Samuel did manage to pick off a Pennington pass in the right flat and return it 36 yards for a touchdown. Given how much Belichick hates the Jets, it should be noted that the Patriots did play gentlemanly the rest of the way and wisely did not inflict any more damage on a division rival. But Faulk's touchdown and Samuel's pick sent all of Gillette Stadium into a celebration mode, and it sent travel agents across the region checking out flights from Logan Airport to Lindbergh Field in San Diego.
The Patriots take a world of confidence with them out west, and they will need every bit of it. There were probably a few experts out there who privately thought the Jets could actually win this game, given how well the Jets play here in Foxborough (in his career, Pennington was 2-1 here going into this game) and Mangini's knowledge of his former team. But the Patriots did take care of an inferior team on paper the way they should have, which in the playoffs means a great deal. The Patriots will get a lot more to deal with out west than they did on Sunday, but the Patriots know that if anyone can pull off an upset of the top seed, they can do it.
At game's end, there must have been three hundred photographers and filmers on the field, trying to get a record of the meeting between Belichick and Mangini. Belichick pushed a photographer out of the way (much like Bill Parcells did at the end of the 1996 AFC Championship game, as he made his way to embrace his friend, then-Jaguar head coach Tom Coughlin), and the two former coaching partners gave each other a brief embrace. It lasted about two seconds, but it was a lot better than what they had been doing in the regular season meetings. This sort of thing is mostly the stuff of folk bards, but it did show that the two head coaches were smart enough to rise above any animosity between the two.
The Patriots move on to San Diego, and a running back they have never stopped in two previous meetings. Belichick will have much easier pickings in the coaching matchup, but a much tougher problem in dealing with league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson. Brady, meanwhile, will remember Schottenheimer's comments following last season's 41-17 thrashing at Foxborough regarding the Patriots' injury situation.
And it will be a whole different sort of interesting, much more than this game with the Jets ever was.
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