December 16, 2007
No Place Like Home For The Playoffs
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- In the end, it was home field advantage first, undefeated season second, beating the elements third, and revenge a lot further down the list.
Despite the minions of Patriot fans wanting their team to blow out the Jets in record style, the players will take the win. In lousy weather conditions, against a Jet defense which was well coached in stopping the Patriot passing game, the Patriots were still able to come out on top because the Jets are still manifestly a lousy team and could not survive stumbling over their mistakes. The Patriots became the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to begin a season 14-0 by topping the Jets, 20-10, and in doing so clinched home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, their first one seed since 2003.
Patriot Nation will come away from this game disappointed that the home towners didn't win the game by something like 80-0, that Tom Brady and Randy Moss didn't break their touchdown records in this game, that the Patriots didn't exact revenge for the fink job the Jets pulled on them after Week 1. In effect, the Patriots did exact revenge by winning the game ugly on a day where ugly was the only way a win could be had. A snowstorm gave way to winds which gusted up to 35 mph, and rain fell steadily throughout the game, which pretty much took the vaunted passing game away from the Patriots.
But as champions do, the Patriots still found a way to win, and that reigns supreme on anyone's priority list. No, it wasn't the epic blowout everyone was hoping for (Will Las Vegas now stop giving the Patriots such huge point spreads? The Patriots are 0-3 against the spread when the spread is 20 points or greater.). With at the most three of the next four games here at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots will be smart to prepare to simply win and not so much to exact revenge on what really amounts to petty squabbles and hissy fits earlier in the season.
The Jets could very well be kicking themselves after this game if you look at Brady's final numbers. Brady finished with zero touchdown passes, one interception, 14 of 27 passing for 140 yards, and a rating of only 51.5. The Jets did a terrific job on Wes Welker and Moss for the most part, holding the two of them to only 8 total catches for 109 yards. Donte Stallworth was shut out, and Jabar Gaffney had only 2 catches for 8 yards. Brady's one interception came early in the third quarter, a hurried pass thanks to a blitz from Drew Coleman which fell into the arms of rookie Darrelle Revis in the left flat.
If that wasn't enough, the Jets managed a second quarter touchdown on a blocked punt. David Bowens broke in and blocked a Chris Hanson punt and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown which at the time made it 10-7 Patriots. The Jets had the momentum at the time, and looked to be in a position to put a huge scare into the Patriots and the home crowd.
But the Jets were too mistake-prone to turn all these good plays and numbers into a win.
On their second offensive play of the game, Richard Seymour came in unblocked and clobbered starting quarterback Kellen Clemens, knocking him out of the game. The floating pass he managed to get off hit Eugene Wilson right between the numbers and he took it in from five yards out to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead. Eric Mangini went with a rotating quarterback system the rest of the way, which may have been questioned since both Brad Smith and Chad Pennington have different strengths, but neither was able to get into a completely good rhythm.
With Smith, the Jets ran a college option offense. One play caught the Patriots off guard, a pitch to Leon Washington which went for 49 yards down the left sideline, but that drive stalled on downs at the Patriot 17 when Smith tried to hit Chris Baker in the end zone on fourth and two but threw it behind him. On the previous play, Pennington hit Jerricho Cotchery for 16 yards, but Smith came in for fourth down. Pennington would have been a better choice for a quick short pass when two yards were needed to convert a fourth down.
Still leading late in the first half, 10-7, the Jets had the ball at their own 20 with 2:52 left before halftime. A sack by Junior Seau led to a three-and-out, but Kelley Washington offered up some payback by coming in unblocked off the right side and blocking Ben Graham's punt. Abram Elam fell on it at the three, but Laurence Maroney, who made up for the lack of a passing attack with 104 rushing yards, covered the three yards in two carries for a score and a 17-7 halftime lead for the Patriots. The blocked punt by Washington negated the earlier block by Bowens, and took away a chance for the Jets to go into the locker room with a huge amount of confidence.
The aforementioned interception by Rivas would ultimately go for naught. Six plays into the drive, facing third down and 12 from the New England 25, Pennington hit Baker over the middle for 10 yards. But Adalius Thomas caught up to Baker and stripped the ball from him, and Wilson recovered and returned it 4 yards to the 14. Wilson has been toiling in obscurity lately, a comedown from being the starting free safety a few Super Bowls ago. Wilson turned out to be the defensive star of the game for the Patriots, and at this juncture, though the Patriots would not take advantage of this turnover, seemed to snuff out the last chance for the Jets to come out of Foxborough with an upset win.
The Jets actually did show a pulse one more time, but were done in this time with bad luck rather than bad football. Facing first and 17 at their own 8, Pennington, who came in for good after Smith was knocked out of the game on the previous play on which he ran an option run for 21 yards but the play was negated on a holding call on Anthony Clement, found a terrific groove. Pennington hit on ten of his next eleven passes, all of them of the typical dink-and-dunk variety, driving the Jets to the Patriot 16. On third down and 2, Pennington found Justin McCareins in the back of the end zone for an apparent touchdown, but the call was overturned on replay because McCareins juggled the ball before gaining possession out of bounds. This turn of events proved costly, as Mangini opted for a 33-yard field goal by Mike Nugent to make it 17-10 Patriots.
Brady's one moment of glory put the game away for good on the next drive. On third and ten at his own 29, he finally managed to squeeze one into Welker for 16 yards, then two plays later hit Moss for 46 yards to the Jet 14. A sack of Brady by Shaun Ellis forced a 33-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to complete the scoring.
There were no dramatics after the game. Bill Belichick and Mangini briefly shook hands and walked away, nothing dramatic about it. Belichick had a wide grin on his face, his team now 14-0 and entrenched as the one seed in the conference, and two wins away from the first 16-0 season since the schedule expanded to 16 games in 1978.
Forget about all the scoring records that didn't come about. It's still a win, with a lot of nice stuff attached. Miami is next, and with them finally winning against Baltimore, they won't be nearly as hungry.
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