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Analysis: Patriots finally win an easy one

The Patriots raised their record to 7-5 and maintained a two-game lead in the AFC East while posting their largest margin of victory for the season and allowing the fewest points to an opponent.

The Patriots played well in all facets of the game, particularly on defense, holding the Jets to 164 yards of total offense and giving up only one score: a 38-yard Mike Nugent field goal in the second quarter. The Jets, who fell to 2-10, gained only 41 yards rushing, including 29 yards on 15 carries by RB Curtis Martin. Quarterback Brooks Bollinger, a fourth stringer pressed into action after injuries to Chad Pennington, Jay Fiedler and Vinny Testaverde, completed only 15 of 37 passes for 135 yards and was intercepted once.

Head Coach Bill Belichick praised his team's performance, particularly on third down. "I'm not sure what the third-down numbers were, but they certainly were a lot better than they have been," he said. "We picked up some on offense, so that has a lot to do with it. If you can get off the field on third down, you have got a chance to get that time of possession in your favor." On defense, the Patriots allowed the Jets to convert only four of 14 third-down tries, while the New England offense was successful on eight of 16 attempts. The Patriots dominated time of possession, 38:10 to 21:50.

While the Jets were struggling the make first downs, the Patriots were ringing up 397 total yards by running a nicely balanced offense. RB Corey Dillon, back in action after missing two games with leg injuries, managed 65 yards on 16 carries (4.1-yard average). He didn't look like his 2004 self, but he had some nice runs and, most importantly, was still going strong in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Tom Brady had a very strong game, completing 27 of 37 passes for 271 yards with no interceptions. It was a nice rebound from last week's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, when Brady threw a career-high four picks. Brady was sacked twice, but he moved well in the pocket throughout the game, often stepping up to avoid pressure and buy extra time.

Brady distributed the ball well, completing passes to seven receivers. Wideouts David Givens, Deion Branch and Troy Brown each had five catches, while running backs Dillon and Kevin Faulk each had four. Brown gained 64 yards receiving to lead the team.

"The guys did a good job," said Brady. "It makes it easy on me when it is like that. I just have to hit the guys."

Kicker Adam Vinatieri accounted for nine of the Patriots' points with three field goals. The second of those, a 34-yarder at the end of the first half, made him the Patriots' all-time leading scorer with 1,134 points. Vinatieri passed Gino Cappelletti, a star kicker and receiver who played in the '60s. In 10 seasons with New England, Vinatieri has kicked 260 field goals and 353 points after touchdowns. Cappelletti's total includes 42 touchdowns.

Vinatieri was not the only special teamer to come up big; Punter Josh Miller averaged 48.0 yards on four punts, and the kickoff cover team held the Jets to an average of 14.0 yards on five returns. The highlight was a hard hit by rookie James Sanders that dropped Justin Miller at the Jets' 20 after a kick return of only seven yards in the third quarter.

The Patriots' success was fueled by the return to health of three key offensive players: Dillon, Faulk and Givens. Faulk, who had missed eight games with a foot injury, showed no rust as he totaled 81 yards of offense on 10 carries and four receptions. Givens picked up 27 yards on his five catches and barely missed making a spectacular leaping catch late in the first half. He had missed three games with a knee injury.

For most of the first half, the Patriots appeared to be caught in another overly close game with a lesser team, much has they were when they played the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 20. The Patriots squandered the game's first possession with a three-and-out that included a nine-yard sack of Brady on third down.

The second drive was a little better, as New England picked up 34 yards, including 25 on a nice pass from Brady to TE Benjamin Watson. On the next play, however, Watson dropped a catchable ball that would have gone for another long gain, and the drive ended with a 45-yard field goal try by Vinatieri that went wide left. The first quarter wound up scoreless, marking the third time in the Patriots' three AFC East games this season that neither team has scored.

It looked like more of the same in the second quarter as the teams traded field goals, but New England seized the momentum before halftime and never let go, scoring on three consecutive drives while holding the Jets to 17 yards and two first downs during the same span.

The Patriots grabbed a 6-3 lead on Vinatieri's record-setting field goal before halftime, set up by the kind of pre-halftime drive for which the Patriots are famous. Michael Cloud returned a kick to the Patriots' 40, and the offense set up shop with 58 seconds to go. Brady moved the team 44 yards in seven plays, including a 16-yard pass to Troy Brown and an 18-yarder that Faulk smartly took out of bounds to stop the clock.

The Jets got the ball to start the second half and earned just one first down before Bollinger threw three consecutive interceptions, setting up a punt.

The Patriots then took 8:32 off the clock with a 14-play, 85-yard drive that featured six carries by Dillon and a nice 21-yard completion to Andre Davis. Dillon ran it in from one yard out to give New England a 13-3 lead.

The Patriots closed the scoring on their next possession, driving 50 yards on nine plays to set up a 22-yard Vinatieri field goal. Brady passed seven times and rushed twice on the drive.

The Patriots' defense played 60 minutes of good football, never giving the struggling Jets a chance to get going. LB Tedy Bruschi, CB Ellis Hobbs and DE Ty Warren each had six tackles to lead the team. Hobbs also got an interception late in the fourth quarter, his second of the season. LB Rosevelt Colvin and DT Jarvis Green each had a sack.

Before Sunday, the Patriots' largest margin of victory this season had been 10 points, in the season opener against the Raiders, and the lowest point total they had allowed an opponent was 16 points.

The Patriots have one game remaining against each of their AFC East Rivals, starting with the Buffalo Bills next Sunday in Buffalo. The Bills are 4-8 and have lost five or their last six, including a shocking loss yesterday in Miami, where they allowed the Dolphins 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points after having taken a 23-3 lead.

The AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts, meanwhile, went to 12-0 yesterday with a 35-3 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans, and the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (9-3) extended their lead to two games with a 38-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The AFC West race tightened when the Kansas City Chiefs knocked off the Denver Broncos, 31-27. The Broncos (9-3) still lead the Chiefs (8-4) by a game.

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