November 14, 2008
Defense Fails Patriots In The Clutch
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- All the excitement, the drama, the riveting battle between these two AFC East enemies came down to a lousy coin flip.
It was Troy Brown Night at Gillette Stadium, but instead of retiring, the former Mr. Everything for the Patriots needed to suit up and play defensive back. Maybe Brown could have done what no other Patriot could do, that being to stop some rookie tight end named Dustin Keller, who basically killed the Patriots all night long. Keller made three clutch catches in overtime, helping set up Jay Feely for a 34-yard field goal and a 34-31 win by the New York Jets over the Patriots, giving the Jets sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
The loss leaves the Patriots with a boatload of regrets, but mostly on the defensive side of the ball. While every Brett Favre suck-up on the planet will extol his praises and make you think that he can solve all the world peace issues, the real problem is that, but for a small stretch during the third quarter while the Patriots were erasing a 24-6 first half deficit, the Patriot defense played a shoddy and inconsistent game, rife with blown coverages, poor tackling and some key penalties. To be fair, the defense was undermanned thanks to the loss of Adalius Thomas to an arm injury and the unexpected scratch of Ty Warren. But other than Jerod Mayo, who played the best game of his young and burgeoning NFL career, the defense caved in early in the game and caved in again in the fourth quarter and overtime.
What will be tragically forgotten in this game was the great comeback engineered by Matt Cassel, and the terrific rally to send the game into overtime. Despite not being able to involve Randy Moss most all night long in the offense and being limited to mostly short passes underneath, Cassel was able to rally the Patriots with a touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney late in the first half, a scoring toss to Ben Watson in the third quarter, and a scintillating 16-yard scoring pass to Moss with one second left in regulation, with Ty Law in coverage.
If any blame can be laid at the feet of the offense, it would be in the third quarter when the defense had its one good stretch in the game. Trailing 24-13 to open the second half, the Patriots drove from their own 22 to the Jet 35, then Cassel hit Watson in the left flat for a first down. In trying to secure the ball, Watson let the ball fall out and Kerry Rhodes picked up the loose football. Watson wasn't even hit at all, just a muff on trying to put two hands on the football.
The Patriots would get the ball right back, but blew this drive on a bad shotgun snap. On first and ten at the Jet 38, Dan Koppen hiked the ball past Cassel, and the ball rolled all the way back to the Patriot 38 for a 24-yard loss. But the Patriots were able to hold the Jets after the ensuing punt. The Patriots still trailed by 13 but missed two golden opportunities to take the lead in a game they never led in.
What helped fuel the comeback was going to a no-huddle offense in the second half. The Patriots would score on three of their final four drives, when the Jet defense began to really tire out. It was sound strategy, and Cassel for the most part made it work well. The Patriots outgained the Jets in total yards, 511 to 375. All three of Cassel's touchdown passes were in the red area. To make things even more interesting, Cassel led the Patriots in rushing with 62 yards, the most rushing yards by a Patriot quarterback since PatsFans.com's contributing reporter Steve Grogan in 1978.
The offensive numbers suggest a solid Patriot win. The defense would not allow it to happen.
The game was lost in two drives, one in the fourth quarter and the only one in overtime. Having just allowed the Patriots to tie up the game at 24, the Jets took over at their own 22. The Jet offense had been in a slumber all during the second half, but once the game was tied, the Patriot defense suddenly went completely soft. Thomas Jones (who finished with 104 yards rushing) caught a seven-yard pass, then ran for 11 and 6 yards. On second and one at the Patriot 36, Keller hauled in a 14-yard pass right in front of Brandon Meriweather. Runs by Leon Washington gained seven more, then Chansi Stuckey made his only catch of the evening with a four-yard grab for a first down despite being throttled by Mayo.
With first down and ten at the Patriot 11, Jones ran for four yards and Favre threw one away. On third down and 6, Mike Vrabel was called for holding Keller. Vrabel screamed at the referees for making a bad call; replays showed that, while the call was a wee bit questionable, Vrabel did have a hand on Keller's jersey collar. The call virtually ensured that the Jets would get a touchdown; five plays later, Jones pounded it in from the one.
When Moss scored the touchdown with one second left, some may have wished that Bill Belichick had gone for two to try and win it in regulation. As it turned out, losing the coin flip cost the Patriots the game. The Jets took the ball in overtime and the Patriot offense never got to run a play.
Taking over at the 20 following Stephen Gostkowski's only touchback of the evening, the Patriots put Favre in a hole thanks to a Pierre Woods sack and a pass defensed by Gary Guyton. Facing third down and 15 at his own 15, Favre was able to find Keller in the right flat, thanks to a classic case of blown coverage by the Patriots. Meriweather was the nearest defender. The 16-yard pass got the Jets off and running.
Two plays later, Favre found Keller again for 12 yards after Deltha O'Neal gave him a wide cushion. Jones later caught an 8-yard screen pass, and Laveranues Coles caught a 16-yard crossing pattern right in front of Meriweather to put the Jets into field goal range. Three plays later, Feely converted from 34 yards out to end the game.
The Patriots wasted several notable individual accomplishments. Cassel finished with 400 yards passing, hitting 30 of 51 and the three scoring passes. Mayo, who should be the leading candidate for defensive rookie of the year, had 16 tackles and almost single-handedly kept the Patriots in the game when they were behind. Moss's touchdown catch to tie the game was a beautiful diving catch with Law all over him, falling down with both feet in the end zone and surviving a booth replay.
But the Patriots saw all that go up in smoke. The loss broke a run of seven straight overtime wins in a row for the Patriots. If they lose to Miami a week from Sunday, their whole season may go up in smoke.
The Patriots wanted badly to win for Brown. It's too bad that he may have been the best defensive back on the field for the Patriots.
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