by Scott Benson

For the second straight week the Patriots matched a good half of football with a hideously bad one, blowing a 24 point 3rd quarter lead before hanging on at the last second to defeat the New York Jets 24-17.

This is the youngest Patriots team of the Bill Belichick era, and it may be showing. Once again, New England’s apparent immaturity and inconsistency nearly cost the team a devastating divisional loss.

The veterans have hardly been better. Senior members of the defensive backfield allowed two long scores due to a plethora of badly missed tackles, and quarterback Tom Brady went stone cold to the point that he barely cracked a 50% completion percentage. He tried to force an unnecessary long pass downfield to a double-covered Doug Gabriel, and the subsequent interception (by David Barrett) set up a Jets touchdown that suddenly cut the lead to 10 points.

There will be no end of storyliners that will this week blame Brady’s problems on Deion Branch, David Givens, and the allegedly spendthrift New ngland braintrust. One word: bullshit.

Blaming lack of timing or coordination doesn’t account for the open receivers that have been badly missed, especially today. Spare me the crap about a fuming and defenseless Brady forced to make chicken salad from chicken feathers. Make the plays. Only a spin doctor will insist they’re not there.

The second half began promisingly for the Patriots, when the defense stopped two consecutive short yardage runs at midfield (first by Junior Seau, then by Jarvis Green and Ty Warren) to take over on downs from the desperate Jets. A handful of plays later, Laurence Maroney scored his first NFL touchdown on a one-yard plunge, and the 24-0 rout was on.

Not so fast. The Jets had their first score within four plays, thanks to a horrific display of bad tackling by the Patriots. On a 3rd and 13 from his own 29, Pennington hit Jerricho Cotchery on a medium throw to the right sideline. Neither Eugene Wilson nor Chad Scott could tie up Cotchery despite being right on top of him, and he broke away for a 71 yard score that will be portrayed as a heroic effort.

It was a gift.

As was the sequence that followed. Though the Patriots had successfully run the ball all afternoon, they ignored their own 17 point lead and clock killing capabilities to needlessly force the long throw to Gabriel, which handed the ball right back to the Jets.

The gift giving frenzy continued in the next few plays, when Pennington beat a Pats blitz and hit Laveraneus Coles for an underneath route that turned into another Keystone Kops tackling clinic by the New England secondary and linebackers. Wilson, who may have had his worst game as a Patriot today, was the main culprit again, though he had plenty of company. It was suddenly a 24-14 game, and the Patriots looked entirely capable of losing a game they had led comfortably only a few minutes before.

Thanks primarily to these missed tackles, both Coles and Cotchery finished with game with over 100 yards receiving, and Pennington totaled more than 300 yards passing.

Yet there were still more presents waiting underneath the Jets’ tree. On the next New England possession, Brady fumbled after being blasted by an unblocked blitzer for the second consecutive week (I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened if the Pats had only signed Branch, right?), and the Jets had the ball again in Patriots territory. Pennington led them inside the Pats 20, but a Mike Vrabel sack on 3rd and 8 forced a Mike Nugent chip shot that left the Patriots with a 7 point lead.

With the margin down to one score, Brady and Patriots offense took over at their own 30 with 9:20 on the clock, and pulled out an eight-minute drive that appeared to clinch the victory.

But Stephen Gostkowski’s chip shot 29 yard field goal, which would have made it a two-score game with under a minute left, was blocked by Jonathan Vilma on a total breakdown of New England’s special teams, including the rookie kicker, who left it low. Which will no doubt kick off even more bullshit wailing this week. Here’s a news flash for you – even Adam Vinatieri had a few blocked, especially when his line let defenders stream in on simple little chip shots.

Not surprisingly, the Patriots had given Chad Pennington another chance, though admittedly some 90 yards from paydirt.

It was too much to ask, even for New York, who had owned the Patriots through and through for the previous 25 minutes.

Once again the Patriots get the desired result in a most undesirable way. We’ll hear alot about departed receivers and kickers this week, and plenty of talk radio (and print) hysteria.

I wonder if anyone will point out that, most of all, the Patriots need to simply grow up, and stop trying to win games with only 30 minutes of poise and concentration.