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Another Win Despite Second Half Stalemate

Bob George
Bob George on Twitter
Oct 24, 2004 at 3:00am ET

FOXBOROUGH -- Everyone scored in the first half, everyone sputtered in the second half.

Thank goodness for late first half rallies, and the parable which says that "any one play in a football game can be the one that wins the game". In this battle of the unbeatens Sunday at Gillette Stadium between the Patriots and the Jets, the decisive play of the game came with five seconds left in the first half.

Facing second and goal at the Jet 7 with time running out in the first half, Tom Brady lined up behind center, dropped back, stepped up, and began to roll right. David Patten lined up at right end, slipped into the end zone and ran a crossing route towards the center. He got enough separation from former teammate Terrell Buckley and hauled in the touchdown pass to make it 13-7 Patriots with five seconds left until halftime.

Up to this point, the Patriots had scored on all three of their first half possessions. The Jets scored on their second and would have scored on their first had Jerald Sowell not fumbled the ball away at the Patriot 7. Neither defense had been able to stop the other. Chad Pennington was playing dink and dunk with seven different receivers, and Brady was moving the Patriots through the Jet secondary with even more ease.

Final score? Patriots 13, Jets 7.

What happened in the first half, the opposite happened in the second. Both defenses made the necessary adjustments. Both defenses cuffed the other team. So, since the Patriots won the first half, they wound up winning the game. Any one play can win a game. Patten made that play, and the Patriots now have an NFL record 18 straight regular season wins.

Probably the most unlikely element of this game was the fact that the Jets pretty much kept the clamps on Corey Dillon up until late in the third quarter. Dillon wound up with 115 yards on 22 carries, but those numbers were helped greatly by a 44-yard run late in the third quarter. Take that run (his longest as a Patriot) away and Dillon averages only 3.4 yards per carry. But Dillon did help salt the game away on the final drive of the game with a clutch four-yard run on third and three just after the two-minute warning.

Brady was magnificent, with no careless passes, no interceptions, and a brilliantly managed game. The Jet defense, which is weak in the secondary, played inspired most of the afternoon and put pressure on Brady for much of the game. Pass rushers John Abraham and Shaun Ellis, while not dominating the game, wreaked enough havoc for Brady to be uncomfortable all game long. Brady was sacked three times in the game, whereas Pennington suffered no sacks.

Pennington was the key to the game, as predicted in all pregame reports. If the Patriots stop Pennington, they win. If he has a great game, the Jets win. Pennington had a stunning first half, completing 12 of 14 for 104 yards (at one time he completed 10 passes in a row). Brady had an even better one, completing 14 of 17 for 178 yards, one touchdown and a 128.9 passer rating (compared to 97.6 for Pennington). Pennington nickel and dimed the Patriots to death, Brady made more out of his passes.

Yet the Patriots trailed for a time, 7-6, and took the lead just as time ran out in the half. Despite Brady having the higher rating, it seemed like Pennington was having a better game. The defense had to stand up in the second half, and stand up they did.

The first drive of the second half may have been the linchpin for a Patriot win. The first play was a fake reverse to Santana Moss, with Curtis Martin instead running around right end. Ted Johnson stayed at home and was not fooled, and smashed his former teammate for a three-yard loss. Two plays later, the Patriots came on an all-out blitz and Mike Vrabel was able to knock down Pennington's pass before he was about to get creamed by about four defenders. Pennington was never comfortable again for the rest of the contest.

The rest of the second half was the Patriot offense doing their typical "managing the game" bit, with the defense making all the plays it needed to to win. The next Jet drive ended with Pennington trying to nail former Tennessee Titan Justin McCareins on a deep sideline route, but Asante Samuel stayed with him step for step. The next drive ended with Wayne Chrebet dropped an easy throw over the middle because he saw he was about to get clobbered by Roman Phifer.

In the fourth quarter, the Jets went four and out thanks to consecutive incompletions made possible by an Anthony Becht drop with Rodney Harrison breathing down his neck and a near interception by Samuel at the goal line while draped all over McCareins. The final Jet drive ended with 2:19 left in the game, as Pennington tried to hit Chrebet at the Patriot 10 but was double-covered by Harrison and Randall Gay.

Pennington finished 19 of 30 for 162 yards and no touchdowns (he scored the only Jet touchdown on a one-yard run in the second quarter). His final rating was 77.4. Brady, on the other hand, finished 20 of 29 for 230 yards and a rating of 104.1. This was the key matchup of the game, and this is the main reason why the Patriots won. Pennington was not allowed to get into his game, and the defense did what it had to do to bring the Patriots home.

As has been the case frequently during this long win streak, the Patriots continue to win close games by doing just enough to win. The Patriots understand better than any other team in the league that all you have to do to win is to outscore your opponent. Wins don't come flashy, they just come. At 18 in a row, 21 in a row counting postseason, the Patriots have to be the league's best-ever at understanding this most important concept. You the fan may be "disappointed" that the team doesn't "blow opponents away", but might not realize that mistakes can be made if a team gets too greedy or careless in this pursuit. Going for the kill is important, but the Patriots are of a rare temperament that they just know that they are going to win, and big scores really don't matter if they just get the win.

Because of this, it is the Patriots that are 6-0 and the Jets are 5-1. It is because of this that the Patriots have the early leg up on the Jets in playoff tiebreakers. It is because of this that the Jets played so well and still came up short. It is because of this that the Patriots have two Super Bowl titles and seem plenty well on their way towards contending for still another Vince.

These games aren't easy to watch, not by a long shot. But the Patriots continue to win. They don't get any harder than an undefeated divisional rival from New York.

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