Linebacker Tedy Bruschi left the game after suffering an undisclosed leg injury during a Patriots' punt in the second quarter. Bruschi did not appear to be seriously injured, but he was helped from the field and then carted to the locker room and did not return. He had missed the season's first six games after suffering a mild stroke in the offseason. Since returning to the team on Oct. 30, Bruschi has played every game. The team offered no word on his condition.
Bruschi was one of three New England players felled by injury. Cornerback Asante Samuel left the game after suffering an apparent blow to the head while returning an interception, and kick returner Bethel Johnson was injured while being gang-tackled on a kickoff return.
The injury to Bruschi was the biggest news of the night, but the Patriots also kept their hopes alive for grabbing the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. If they beat the Miami Dolphins on Sunday and the Cincinnati Bengals lose to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots will be seeded third and probably would not draw the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts until the conference championship game.
New England's Mike Vrabel also made an obscure piece of NFL history by becoming the first NFL player to record two touchdowns and a sack in one game. The linebacker/tight end scored New England's first two touchdowns on passes from QB Tom Brady and sacked Jets QB Brooks Bollinger for a 10-yard loss in the second quarter.
The 31-21 score was deceptive because the Patriots dominated the Jets almost as thoroughly as they handled their last three opponents while winning those games by a combined 79-10. The Jets mustered only 171 yards of total offense, including only 28 in the first half, when New England was opening a 21-7 lead. New York did not make a single first down before halftime and controlled the ball for only 6:26 (compared to 23:34 for New England.)
"I thought we got a pretty solid effort out of our team tonight," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "We ran the ball with a little bit of consistency, had a couple long drives, particularly in those quarters we were going against the wind. Defensively, I thought we had a pretty solid effort there in the first half. Overall, it's a good, solid win."
The Jets accomplished very little on offense before racking up two touchdown drives after the Patriots had taken a 28-7 lead late in the third quarter. Their first score came in first quarter when former Patriots' CB Ty Law anticipated Brady beautifully and intercepted his short pass to WR David Givens on the right sideline and ran it back 74 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 7-7.
New York was virtually unable to move the ball for much of the game. Their first five offensive possessions yielded a total of 33 yards on 14 plays with no first downs. Four of those possessions ended in punts, the fifth in Samuel's interception.
The Jets total of 40 rushing yards was the most the Patriots have allowed in four games. In that stretch, New England has given up a total of just 125 yards rushing. Derrick Blaylock led the Jets with 20 yards on three carries. Cedric Houston had 14 yards on five carries.
While the New England defense was choking the Jets, the offense was having its way too, grinding down the Jets with three first-half touchdown drives that covered a combined 198 yards in 38 plays and took 19:07 off the clock.
Marching into a 20-mph wind in the first quarter, the Patriots favored the run, with RB Corey Dillon getting most of the carries. Dillon logged 54 first-half yards enroute to a 77-yard night with two touchdowns on a season-high 26 carries. The Patriots first four plays of the game were Dillon runs, and he rushed six times on the first drive for 26 yards. Dillon's longest run was only 10 yards, but he looked strong throughout the game.
The Patriots totaled 151 yards of rushing, with RBs Kevin Faulk (10 carries for 38 yards), Heath Evans (6 for 16) and Patrick Pass (3 for 14) all getting in on the action.
Brady also had another good night, completing 18 of 29 passes for 185 yards. He sat out most of the fourth quarter, with Doug Flutie filling in and completing his only pass. The Patriots totaled 321 yards of total offense.
WR Deion Branch led all Patriots receivers with four catches for 69 yards including a beautiful catch on a low ball from Brady for a 22-yard completion early in the third quarter.
Tight end Benjamin Watson caught two balls for 37 yards, including a nice 14-yard gainer on a screen play along the left sideline in the second quarter. Watson, who sat out last week's game with a head injury, also got open for what would have been another long gainer, but Brady underthrew him.
One area where the Patriots struggled was kick coverage, allowing a 39-yard return by Justin Miller and a 27-yarder by Jerome Cotchery.
The Patriots wrap up the regular season on New Year's Day in Foxboro against the Miami Dolphins, who have won five in a row to raise their record to 8-7. The Patriots beat the Dolphins, 23-16, in their first meeting Nov. 13 in Miami, as Evans ran for 84 yards and Brady passed for 275. The Dolphins beat the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, 24-10, as RB Ricky Williams ran for 172 yards. Miami's win streak includes road victories against the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers.
Notes: The Patriots committed no penalties in the first half and only four for the game, for 30 yards. DE Richard Seymour was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Bollinger on the Jets' first play from scrimmage in the second half. … When Jets QB Vinny Testaverde threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles in the fourth quarter, he became the first NFL quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in 19 consecutive seasons. … Both of the Jets touchdown passes went to receivers covered by Patriots' safety Artrell Hawkins. … Patriots CB Ellis Hobbs stopped a second-quarter Jets drive when he dropped WR Justin McCareins for a two-yard loss on a passing play on 3rd-and-1. … Patriots safety James Sanders recovered a fumble by New York's David Barrett after New England's third touchdown in the second quarter. His recovery gave the Patriots the ball at the Jets' 35 with 0:33 remaining before halftime, but the Patriots failed to score. … Bruschi and Samuel were replaced by Monty Beisel and Hank Poteat, respectively.