December 26, 2004
Jets vs. Patriots
At Giants Stadium, Patriots WIN, 23-7
By Scott A. Benson

展ell my rig’s a little old, but that don’t mean she’s slow.
There’s a flame from her stack, and the smoke’s rolling black as coal.
My hometown’s coming in sight, if you think I’m happy you池e right.
Six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight.�
� Dave Dudley, 全ix Days on the Road�

The Patriots finished their own six days on the road in the Meadowlands today, and by the time they made it home tonight, they壇 proven to one and all that there痴 still some flame left in their stack.

With an astounding turn, the defending champions � a mere six days removed from their disheartening Miami Meltdown – returned to inspirational form with a 23-7 drubbing of the New York Jets that restored badly needed momentum to the Patriots� December and, most importantly, clinched the 2nd seed in the upcoming AFC playoffs.

The Patriots have a first round bye and will host a divisional round playoff game on the weekend of January 15-16.

In a game that was every bit as big for the Jets as it was for the Pats, New England dominated every square inch of the Giants Stadium turf. Despite having been beaten and bloodied Monday night, the 13-2 Patriots rose from the canvas and returned once again to the center of the ring, masters of their dominion, to earn as complete a victory as they致e had this season.

The defense led the way, nullifying Curtis Martin and unnerving Chad Pennington before some late game soft coverage allowed the Jets a few pity statistics. But when it was nut cutting time, the defense that had looked so vulnerable six days ago was � improbably – almost invincible tonight. Most startling was pass coverage that rarely left Pennington anything � or any time – to work with.

Tom Brady came back from his Miami nadir with a first class game � on the road � against one of the NFL痴 highest rated defenses. He threw for two scores and did not have an interception, but most importantly, he came up with a big game when his team needed it the most. It isn稚 the first time Tom Brady has done that sort of thing, so we probably shouldn稚 be surprised. I mean, you壇 have to be an idiot from the sports department of the New Bedford Standard Times not to understand by now what Brady is made of. With the Pats running attack slow to get rolling today, it was on Brady from the start, and like a champion, he responded with his best.

There was one down moment. Pro Bowl DE Richard Seymour got caught in a third quarter pile up and suffered a leg injury that knocked him from the game. He was able to walk off, but the decision to shelve him for the rest of the afternoon was a quick one. The possibility of another major loss for the team casts a shadow over an otherwise invigorating and affirming win.

I値l be honest, in the wee hours of last Tuesday morning, I was wondering a little bit about the old rig. I was wondering if � after so many miles of this sometimes historic run, now stretching out over nearly two complete seasons � it might just simply be getting too tired and worn down to make it home.

But tonight, with a renewed wind behind us, and with a deafening low answered firmly by a resounding high, our hometown is coming in sight. There痴 a little flame in the stack and black smoke in our wake.

If you think I知 happy � and relieved – you池e right.

Patriots on Offense

I don稚 know what was more heartening � the previously maligned pass defense throwing a virtual shut out against Pennington and the Jets, or Brady痴 must-have 祖omeback� from his four interception flame out last Monday night.

Brady and the Pats stayed close to the vest early, playing field position with the Jets along the blustery Meadowlands pitch. They tried to establish Corey Dillon and the run, and when that met with little early success, the Pats managed to avoid the kind of turnover that a week ago caused that little vein in New England痴 collective forehead to bulge. To the relief of many, the first quarter amounted to little more than an exchange of several punts, and a negligible home field boost for the Jets.

In the second quarter, though, Brady led the Pats on three scoring drives that would be all they would need to dispatch the New York for the afternoon. As the quarter began, reserve running back Patrick Pass keyed a seven minute drive that resulted in a field goal and a 3-0 lead for the Pats.

Less than two minutes later, after Pennington and company had been forced from the field after just four plays, Brady led New England to its first touchdown. From his own 14, and with little help from his running attack, Brady completed passes to four different receivers, including a perfectly thrown 35 yarder to David Givens that brought the Pats inside the Jets 20 at the two minute warning. Two plays later, Brady hit Daniel Graham down the middle for the Pats first TD and a 10-0 lead.

They would add to it again before the half, and by extension, dig the hole from which the Jets would never escape. New York was unable to drive the ball in their two minute offense and was forced to punt just 30 seconds after taking possession. Troy Brown痴 23 yard return led to three straight Brady completions (including a 21 yarder to Deion Branch) and another field goal with just seconds remaining.

Brady and the offense returned in the second half with a clock grinding attack that neutered any hopes for a Jets comeback. Another field goal ended a seven minute third quarter drive, and when Pennington threw his second interception of the day to open the fourth quarter, the Pats and Brady punched in another touchdown with an easy 6 yard flip to a wide open Branch.

You can稚 say enough about Brady. He did everything he could to lose that game last Monday night. But with the Pats immediate playoff hopes unmistakably at risk tonight in New York, he did everything he needed to do to win.

Corey Dillon wound up with nearly 90 yards, but he averaged just a speck over 3 yards a carry on 29 touches. The Jets were focused on shutting him down, particularly on first downs, and even forced him to fumble once (Christian Fauria recovered). However, in the second half, Dillon began to roll, setting a new Patriots single season rushing record (of 1,519 yards, besting Curtis Martin, who watched from the sideline) as the Pats ran down the clock.

The line mostly struggled to spring Dillon and Pass, but protected Brady reasonably well throughout (he was sacked only once).

Branch led Pats receivers with seven catches, but Graham, Fauria, Givens and Pass all managed at least one key reception that contributed to a scoring drive.

Patriots on Defense

When last we left the Patriots defense, they were backpedaling into oblivion. After watching them blow a last minute 11 point lead to a struggling Dolphins team, it wasn稚 hard to wonder if the bubble gum and bailing wire that had been holding its depleted secondary together was about to give out.

Yet six days later, with precious little recuperation time and with no reinforcements yet on the scene, the Pats defense straight up stoned the Jets.

They did it first with run defense. Curtis Martin couldn稚 get anything going, finishing with just 33 yards. The middle front seven, led by Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork, wouldn稚 allow the former Pats room to do anything. His longest run was 5 yards.

Without a productive Martin, Chad Pennington was left to work the air. Considering he would be doing it against a secondary that had just been torched by the illustrious AJ Feeley, the Jets had to feel pretty good about this part of their game plan. Yet, surprisingly, the Pats pass defense left almost no room for Pennington to breathe, much less pick up first downs.

Two early big plays ensured that the Jets would get no quick lift from their home crowd. On their first possession, the Jets drove inside Patriots territory. On a first and ten from the 40, an attentive Bruschi, following the quarterback痴 eyes every second, drifted back in a zone to pick off a Pennington pass intended for Santana Moss. He returned it all the way to the Jets 38.

On the next drive, with the Jets inside the Pats 40, Willie McGinest, as he so often does, came up with a huge third down stop on Martin, dropping him for a 5 yard loss on 3rd and 2. Though the Pats offense was unable to convert either opportunity, their defensive counterparts had succeeded in taking the early game piss and vinegar out of the Jets. They would not enter Patriots territory again until the third quarter, and by then, they trailed by two touchdowns.

The secondary, with Eugene Wilson at corner and the increasingly valuable Don Davis at safety, held Wayne Chrebet to only 4 catches and Moss to just 2. Fourth quarter garbage time stats should do little to mask the fact that the Patriots defense bodyslammed the Jets all afternoon.

Wilson grabbed a fourth quarter interception, and Jarvis Green nabbed a later fumble recovery after Pennington was stripped by Rosevelt Colvin. Colvin, Green, and Mike Vrabel all had sacks.

It will be hard for several days to determine the seriousness of Richard Seymour痴 injury (you know how they do things down there), at least as hard envisioning the impact on the Pats D should the normally dependable Seymour be lost for any length of time.

Patriots on Special Teams

A rare day when everything went right for the Pats on special teams. Brown痴 23 yard punt return set up a late 2nd quarter score, and Adam Vinatieri made three field goals (in a tough Northeast setting) after several weeks of inactivity. Most importantly, punt and kickoff coverages were as good as they致e been in weeks, or at least since the last time Rabih Abdullah was covering them.

Patriots on the Sidelines

Whatever Romeo Crennel did this week, it was the right thing. The Jets couldn稚 run, even with 1,500 yard rusher Curtis Martin, and in a home divisional game that could have put them in the playoffs, Pennington was by and large hopeless. And this was with no Randall Gay, and for that matter, no Ty Law. An absolute home run this week by Crennel and the defensive staff.

On the other side of the ball, ball control and security were main concerns, and when the Pats smelled blood, they were able to get points on the board. After everything that痴 happened in the last week, and with so much suddenly on the line, you could not have asked for anything more from the Pats coaches than what they gave in New York today.

By the way, the Jets have not beaten the Patriots since that devastating home loss that cost New England the division in 2002. Heh, heh, heh.

Patriots Next Week

The final regular season game of the campaign, a 1:00 PM home start with the horrendous San Francisco 49ers. Thanks to the Pats heroic recovery today, this game will be little more than a playoff tune up.